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Terrorism trial could allow gunman to ‘espouse his ideological views’

Christchurch shooter could AVOID terror charges amid fears a drawn-out trial could provide a platform for him to tout his extremist views and traumatise victims’ families

  • Experts say prosecutors may have better luck trying Tarrant on murder charges
  • Police said they were considering charges under Terrorism Suppression Act
  • Terror charges require prosecutors to prove intent based on ideology
  • Former Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said trial could affect victims’ families
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Accused Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant could avoid terror charges amid fears the trial will allow him to ‘espouse’ his ideological views. 

The suspected gunman was charged with one count of murder over the weekend, but authorities are now weighing up all options including charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act. 

Legal experts, however, have warned that a trial on terrorism charges will pose more of a challenge for prosecutors, while also having unintended consequences for the families of the victims. 

They would have to prove Tarrant intended to kill and terrorise a community based on political and ideological reason – as opposed to just murder. 

Tarrant could now face multiple murder charges, according to experts. 


Brenton Tarrant (pictured) has been charged with one initial count of murder over the mass shootings that killed 50 people in the southern city of Christchurch and faces life in prison


Tarrant was arrested on the sidewalk by two training police officers on Friday after he allegedly shot and killed 50 Muslim worshipers

‘In my view, the elements are all made out, but to minimise the impact on victims, straight murder is easier to prove,’ former Crown prosecutor Ross Burns told Stuff. 

‘And there’s less scope [for the accused] to use a platform to espouse his ideological reasons.’

‘You’ve got 50 people killed and probably ten times that number directly affected so it will be a long trial and will be unduly traumatic for everyone,’ he added. 

Burns previously led New Zealand’s Operation 8 case, the only known case to use the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 during the 2007 police raids trial. 

The charges were later abandoned after it was ruled that evidence under that legislation could not be used and four people were convicted on firearm charges.   

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If tried under terror charges, Burns said Tarrant could use the trial as platform to tout his extremist views. 

In his 74-page manifesto, Tarrant allegedly revealed his Neo-Nazi ideology and hatred for Muslims.

‘If he’s denied a platform, he’s failed in his objective,’ Burns said.    

Alexander Gillespie, a law professor at Waikato University in New Zealand, said it’s possible Tarrant will face multiple murder charges, 9news reported.  

‘There’s a lot of debate on whether he should be charged under terrorism legislation or whether he should be charged under the Crimes Act for the simple act of murder – in many ways it’s academic debate,’ he said.

In New Zealand, being found guilty of murder usually comes with a minimum of ten years in jail before possible parole.

Legal experts have said the 28-year-old Australian’s alleged crimes were so extreme they could warrant the heaviest sentence imposed by a judge in the South Pacific nation since the abolition of the death penalty in 1961. 


A Muslim man kneels facing the Masjid Al Noor mosque surrounded by flowers and tributes to the victims 


Young women weep as they hold each other for comfort during a students vigil near Al Noor mosque on Monday 


Nearly three days since the horrific terror attack in Christchurch which left 50 worshippers dead, new details about the innocent victims are emerging

‘He may be sentenced to imprisonment without parole. There is a very significant possibility,’ criminal lawyer Simon Cullen told AFP, adding that such a sentence would be ‘unprecedented’.

‘This would seem to be… the type of situation that may well attract consideration of that type of sentence.’

The longest-ever murder sentence imposed in New Zealand was in 2001, when a judge sentenced William Bell to life imprisonment with a 30-year minimum term for a triple murder.

University of Auckland criminal procedure expert Bill Hodge said despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelling the massacre an act of terrorism, prosecutors may shy away from terror charges.

The Terrorism Suppression Act was only introduced in 2002, after the US 9/11 attacks and is untested in the courts.

‘We haven’t used our terrorism laws previously and the laws are designed to inhibit or prosecute those involved with groups and financing and publications and the like,’ Hodge told AFP.


A woman is seen paying her respects to victims by floral tributes laid outside the mosque 

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