Accused NZ gunman’s legal backflip
THE Australian man arrested over a terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand will undergo mental health tests before his case proceeds.
Three weeks on from the shootings that killed 50, Brenton Tarrant, 28, appeared today via videolink at the High Court at Christchurch, where 50 counts of murder and 39 of attempted murder were laid.
A silent and largely motionless Tarrant appeared on a large screen in the courtroom, a small cell showing in the background.
The courtroom's public gallery was packed by dozens of friends and families of the victims, some who stared quietly at the defendant throughout.
During the half-hour hearing Justice Cameron Mander ordered Tarrant undergo two assessments to determine whether he may be mentally impaired, legally insane or fit to stand trial.
This is a routine step during many New Zealand trials.
Justice Cameron Mander also suppressed the names of those Tarrant is accused of attempting to kill.
After previously saying he would represent himself in court, the accused gunman has now appeared to change his mind and will have two lawyers representing him.
One of those is Shane Tait, an Auckland-based barrister, who confirmed to the media this morning that he and another lawyer have accepted instructions to act for Tarrant during the trial.
"I will be representing Mr Tarrant together with Jonathan Hudson Barrister," Mr Tait said in the statement.
"The right to consult and instruct a lawyer and the right to a fair and public hearing are protected rights that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides to every person in this country.
"In any civilized society the rule of law must prevail.
"We will not be making any further comment in relation to this prosecution, or Mr Tarrant's custodial arrangements at this time."
Tarrant is reportedly being held in New Zealand's only maximum security prison, in Auckland. He will not yet be required to enter pleas.
Much of the hearing today took place behind closed doors.
But as Tarrant's first appearance was closed to the general public, today was the first chance the victims' families have to see him in court.
Some families of those slain in the attacks made their way to court today in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the accused gunman.
Yama Nabi - whose father Haji Daoud Nabi was killed in the shootings - will be among them, after he was stopped from entering the court on Tarrant's previous appearance.
"(I) just want to see what he has to say, what sort of feeling he's got (his) emotion, to see what his reaction is, good or bad and the truth will come out of him," Yama Nabi told radio network RNZ.
"They didn't harm him, no-one harmed him."
Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife in the attack, has already forgiven the alleged mass murderer.
"I have forgiven him and I am sure if my wife was alive she would have done the same thing," he previously told the NZ Herald.
"I hold no grudge."
However, Mr Nabi told RNZ he was not willing to do that at this stage.
"How can you forgive someone if your father's not calling you, talking to you on the phone, putting a smile on your face from morning to night?
"How can you forgive someone for doing that? I mean in the end it's in the hands of Allah almighty god."
Tarrant has had no access to television, radio, newspapers or visitors, prison authorities say.
This lack of access to the outside world has prompted Tarrant to lodge a complaint over prison conditions.
A Corrections source told New Zealand news website Stuffthe inmate's complaint included that he was not being allowed any access to visitors or phone calls.
A Corrections spokesman confirmed the man has "no access to television, radio or newspapers and has no approved visitors".
"He is being managed in accordance with the provisions set out in the Corrections Act 2004 and our international obligations for the treatment of prisoners," the spokesman said.
"For operational security reasons, no further information will be provided."
The alleged gunman has been segregated from other prisoners and is able to be observed 24 hours a day, either directly by staff or via CCTV camera.
Despite labelling the shooting an act of terrorism, authorities have not laid charges under New Zealand's anti-terror laws and have not said whether they intend to.
The country's terrorism legislation has in the past proven unwieldy and complex, and some legal experts have said terror charges may complicate a prosecution for no material difference in outcome if the accused is found guilty.
Tarrant remains in custody will return to court on June 14.