Daily Bulletin

Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Kris Gledhill, Professor of Law, Auckland University of Technology
trial of alleged perpetrator of Christchurch mosque shootings

The vicious targeting of the Muslim community in the Christchurch terror attacks has already had swift consequences.

Gun law reform is underway, as is an investigation of laws relating to crimes motivated by bigotry. The government has also announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into why the attack was not identified and prevented.

Read more: Why NZ needs to follow weapons ban with broad review of security laws

At the centre of these various waves is the trial of the alleged perpetrator, accused (to date) of 50 murders and 39 attempted murders. The identities of the attempted murder victims are suppressed at the moment.

Right to fair trial

The accused, who The Conversation has chosen not to name, remains in custody at New Zealand’s highest security prison in Auckland. He has a right to a fair trial based on a presumption of innocence. The trial will be before a High Court judge and a jury of 12, who have to make decisions based on the evidence presented and found admissible in law. Discussions of the merits of the charges in the media or by politicians are to be avoided because of the risk of polluting the court verdict.

During his first court appearance at the Christchurch District Court on the day after the attacks, the accused was named. New Zealand allows defendants to have their names suppressed in various circumstances, but this accused did not seek that protection. Whether or not to name the accused is now a choice of each journalist or media organisation.

Read more: Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media

New Zealand also allows photography and recording in court, subject to judicial control. A video of the accused with his face blurred was released from the first hearing, but Justice Cameron Mander declined applications to film and record the second hearing at the High Court in Christchurch last week.

Murder charges carry life sentence

At the second, procedural hearing, the accused did not appear in person but via an audio-visual link from prison. Until then, it was thought he would represent himself, but he has now hired two lawyers.

The main order made by Justice Mander was a request for medical reports under the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act 2003. Such reports are designed to investigate whether a defendant might have been insane at the time of the offending or whether he has a current mental disorder that prevents him following a trial. They are commonly ordered for serious charges.

The prosecution may consider additional charges. The most obvious would be breaches of the Arms Act 1983 or the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. Since murder charges carry a life sentence, the prosecution will no doubt weigh up whether additional charges add anything of value.

A terrorism charge, which also carries a life sentence, would require proof of motivation of the accused, which would allow evidence of ideology before the court. Murder and attempted murder charges focus on the narrower question of an intention to kill, and the only evidence allowed would be relevant to the identification of the accused as the perpetrator and his intention, not his motivation.

The only defence to a murder charge is self-defence from an ongoing attack by others.

Speedy trial unlikely

Before the next hearing, expected in June, the prosecution will be compiling evidence and disclosing that to the defence lawyers. This allows them to consider arguing about the admissibility or otherwise of evidence, which may affect when they can advise on the plea. In a complex case, several pre-trial issues are likely to arise and require a judicial ruling.

The length of the trial will depend on whether any charges are contested, how many facts are accepted by both the prosecution and defence, and the number of witnesses that have to be called to give evidence and be cross examined.

While a speedy trial is an accepted component of a fair trial, that is not a regular feature for trials of any complexity. Even if this case is given priority, if it involves trial (which it will unless there is a guilty plea to the charges brought), it is likely to be many months before it happens.

Trial open to public

Another question is where the trial should take place. So far, the courts in Christchurch have been involved, but cases have been transferred in the past because of difficulties of finding a local jury without a link to someone involved in the case.

The trial will be public. Judges have powers to require some evidence be heard without the public present, but media are allowed in those hearings unless there is a national security issue. Judges can also impose controls on the reporting of evidence, including to protect the interests of victims.

One of several verdicts may follow in any trial. An acquittal follows if there is inadequate evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the medical evidence allows it, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity may follow. Similarly, if there is evidence that shows a defendant is not fit to stand trial, the court then considers whether he committed the acts.

The fourth possible verdict, which is proper only if the evidence satisfies the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence with the necessary intent, is a verdict of guilty. Such a verdict on a murder charge invariably leads to a sentence of life imprisonment. A judge can order that the sentence has to be served without the prospect of parole.

Prisoners from overseas, including from Australia, usually serve their sentence and are deported at the end of it. New Zealand does not have standing arrangements for prisoners to be transferred to their country of origin to serve their sentence (nor for New Zealanders to return to serve their overseas sentence). But governments can make other arrangements in special circumstances.

Authors: Kris Gledhill, Professor of Law, Auckland University of Technology

Read more http://theconversation.com/explainer-trial-of-alleged-perpetrator-of-christchurch-mosque-shootings-115041

Writers Wanted

Coronavirus disrupted my kid's first year of school. Will that set them back?


What are manufactured home estates and why are they so problematic for retirees?


Things to Ask To Your Removalists


The Conversation


Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion