Published on Stuff
21 May 2019
The man accused of committing the Christchurch terror attack has become the first to be charged under New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act.
Australian national Brenton Tarrant, 28, now faces 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the man has also now been charged with engaging in a Terrorist Act under section 6A of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
The charge alleges a terrorist act was carried out in Christchurch on March 15.
It follows consultation between police, Crown Law and the Christchurch Crown Solicitors Office.
Tuesday’s charge is the first time anyone has been charged under terror laws in New Zealand. Terror charges were considered in 2007 following raids at an alleged paramilitary training camp in the Te Urewera mountain range, but the Solicitor General declined to use the Terrorism Suppression Act, saying the legislation was “complex and incoherent”.
Mai Chen, managing partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists and Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law at University of Auckland, said: “Charges were considered in the Urewera raid cases but ultimately nobody was charged under the Act then.”
“The elements to be proved are in the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ in section 5. There has to be a specified act, in this case killing or attempting to kill someone, but there are other proscribed acts, for the purpose of advancing a political, ideological or religious cause, with the intention of inducing terror in a civilian population or compelling a Government to do or not do something, such as release prisoners or pay a ransom.
“There are a whole bunch of additional elements both physical and mental that would need to be proved which would not be relevant to a ‘simple’ murder charge under the Crimes Act 1961.”
She said the maximum penalty under section 6A is life imprisonment, the same as for murder.
“Obviously this will be untested territory for the prosecution and defence alike.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Bush said police met with victims’ families and survivors of the shootings at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 “to inform them of the new charges … and update them on the ongoing police investigation”.
Just over 200 people attended the meeting in Christchurch on Tuesday afternoon.
It was led by senior investigation officers Detective Superintendent Peter Read and Detective Superintendent Dave Lynch, as well as Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price.
“Police are committed to providing all the support necessary for what will be a challenging and emotional court process to come for the victims’ families and survivors of the attack,” Bush said.
Mazhar Syed Ahmed attended the meeting and praised police for holding the talks.
“We are very grateful to the police. They fully understand how the Muslim community is feeling, especially those who have lost their loved ones,” he said.
“They explained how the investigation unfolded and what is happening with the charges, but most of all they listened.”
He said people expressed their safety concerns and asked about security at the mosques in the future.
“People are still sad, angry and upset but the police were very kind and answered all of their questions,” Ahmed said.
“There are a lot of people within the Muslim community in Christchurch from different countries and some have a different experience of the police and justice or different perceptions of the law, so to have the police meet with us and explain how things unfolded meant a lot to everyone.”
Police would not comment further about the charges as the case is before the courts, Bush said.
The accused gunman is next expected to appear in the High Court in June.