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Tarrant sentencing soon

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Will life mean life when the Christchurch mosque killer is sentenced?

By Kris Gledhill, Professor of Law, Auckland University of Technology

On the very day New Zealand entered COVID-19 lockdown (March 26), the man arrested for the Christchurch mosque terror attacks admitted he was a murderer and a terrorist.

Despite the lockdown, Justice Mander arranged for media and community representatives to be present when the accused confessed guilt via an audio-visual link from prison. Adjourning the case for sentencing, the judge expressed the hope that those who wished to attend in person would be able to do so.

Last week, Justice Mander directed that sentencing begin on August 24, some 17 months after the atrocity of March 15, 2019.

Why the delay?

This crime was exceptional in its brutality. While the courts have treated it largely as any other case, there have been accommodations. Before the guilty pleas were entered, the trial date had been moved due to Ramadan. And extra steps have been taken to allow more victims to participate in the sentencing.

Under the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the families of those killed and injured are directly involved in a sentencing hearing. With lockdown lifted, New Zealand’s courts are running again, but many of those who will want to make a victim impact statement are abroad. Those with citizenship or permanent residence will have to be quarantined if they return.

Those not automatically entitled to enter will have to seek an exemption. The judge acknowledged the sentencing date was a compromise. Some who want to attend in person won’t be able to but, at the same time, finality is important. Video links will be arranged for those who can’t attend.

The judge did not explicitly mention the defendant’s interest in learning his fate, but this will also be a factor.

How will the gunman be sentenced?

The scale of offending in this case means the hearing will take several days, not least to allow meaningful participation by victims. Before the hearing, the lawyers will file submissions about the appropriate sentence based on the facts, aggravating factors and any mitigation that can be presented. Advice is given by probation officers, and medical reports often feature for serious offending.

If facts alleged by the prosecution are disputed by the defendant, and if those disputed facts may make a difference to the sentence, a mini-trial might be required to resolve them.

Who can present victim impact statements could also be disputed. The terrorism in question was aimed at the Muslim community, making it arguably a “person against whom” the offence was committed and so within the definition of a victim.

A hearing typically opens with the defendant being asked if he or she has anything to say before sentence is passed. This is a cue for the lawyers to make their statements to the court.

Several issues may arise here. Will the defendant wish to speak directly? If so, will it be permitted? Will he be in court or appear via video link?

If he does want to be present for sentencing, the judge may still prevent this by finding it “not contrary to the interests of justice” if the defendant appears only by video link.

What sentence can we expect?

The maximum sentence for a terrorist act is life imprisonment, as it is for murder. The defendant has admitted 51 murders. For attempted murder, the maximum sentence is 10 years, and he has admitted 40 such offences.

Unlike some jurisdictions, New Zealand doesn’t allow sentences of several hundred years for multiple offending. The focus therefore will be on the life sentence.

The Sentencing Act requires a life sentence for murder unless that would be manifestly unjust. No one can suggest that exception applies here. The main issue will be the minimum non-parole period the judge should apply.

Parliament requires a minimum term of 17 years for a terrorist murder or one involving more than one victim. But the legislation allows the judge to set no minimum non-parole period – in other words, a life sentence is literally for the defendant’s remaining life.

A “whole life” sentence has not yet been imposed in New Zealand but it seems likely the prosecution will call for one.

The defence lawyers’ job is to argue against it. It’s also likely that whatever the judge decides will be appealed – by the prosecution if he does not impose a whole life sentence, and by the defence if he does.

Could the gunman be sent back to Australia?

Whether or not there is a whole life sentence, the defendant will be imprisoned for the foreseeable future, inevitably in a high security facility.

Given he is Australian, might he be transferred to Australia? We have no standing arrangements to transfer serving prisoners, so deportation usually follows release. However, the government is able to negotiate special arrangements if the Australian government is willing.

The August hearing and any appeal will determine the responsibility of the gunman. The focus can then turn to the wider questions of whether the horror could have been prevented and how to guard against it happening again.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. My money’s on a non parole specification of thirty years. It would be equal to the maximum ever given yet still namby-pamby enough to allow the judge to drink with his peers.

    It will equate to seven months per victim or about what a dope grower caught with a hundred spindly plants in his garage would receive. That is the value of a life in NZ.

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  2. Tarrant is a pathetic little man who tried to impress the world with his warped lefty ravings and terrorist attack. He can rot in hell.

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  3. How can they have victim impact statements from people in court with Tarrant else where on video.
    It’s got to be the same for everyone. If they are overseas they can use video as we should not be bringing them here.

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  4. Tarrant will not be going to Aust, we can’t get rid of the fat crim who the yanks want!

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  5. Tarrant will have to be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. I hope the cameras in his cell work.

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  6. “Victim’s Rights”.

    I understand there was something written, where Tarrant explained who were his intended victims.
    NO body can explain it.
    It is censured, under pain of hundred of thousands of dollars of fines, and year of imprisonment.

    Will the Judge have read that?
    Have others given the context of how it is to be read?
    Is the Judge only allowed to read portions and only then as other “experts” have interpreted it?

    There are the immediate victims, which seem to be well represented as there are radio, tv, and newspaper articles that have been going on for over a year, and now increasing again.
    Their pain, loss and suffering is very apparent.

    There are other victims that seemed to be denied justice..
    There are hundreds of thousands of others that were also targeted by Tarrant, but the government through the arms of it judiciary, police, parliament, commissioners has made them suffer a torment.

    They have had the equivalent of their arm forced hard up their back, and tears have been forced when they have had the TORMENT of “feeling” that twisting, and bending being applied so that total powerlessness was created and I would wonder that they are victims as Tarrant also intended for them to be.

    Will the Judge listen to that?
    Would he take submissions of this? or is he in cahoots with the fraudulent “parliamentarians” in how submissions are dealt with?
    Or is it that Judge denies full justice?

    I am sure some one more eloquent than me could put a pretty good case up. going through things clause by clause.
    Surely the justice system does not want “injustice” practiced.

    Will there be protests about this “injustice”, this justice denied?
    Will there be many letters to the papers, many posts on blogs? (thanks Ed), and raising a fuss as they have not been Burning, Looting, Marauding, toppling statues or graffiti the streets, to make known, the “systemic” flaws.

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  7. Sharia Law should be what this tool is sentenced under, bit of stoning followed closely bye being close shaved under the chin bye a big fukkin sword.

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  8. It seems the circus must be prolonged as long as possible. Utterly absurd, there is no need for this, the Judge will have read all the necessary reports and submissions it should take him no longer than ten minutes to pass sentence.

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    • But will the Judge read yours and my report?? 🙂

      Surely we have a right to put in a submission, as per my above comment 9:39 am 🙂

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  9. Tarrant had nothing against Muslims. It was not a “hate crime”

    His intention was to set in motion events to fullfil his far left agenda. With the help of Ardern, all his goals were rapidly achieved.He won.

    And he knew he would die in prison. He did not want noteriety and explained why he would be quickly forgotten.

    Everything you have been told about his beliefs is an outright lie.

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