The gunman behind New Zealand’s Christchurch mosque shootings sacked his lawyers and opted to represent himself on Monday, raising concern he would use next month’s sentencing hearing to promote his white supremacist views.
Brenton Tarrant, who is an Australian, will be sentenced on August 24 on 51 murder convictions, 40 of attempted murder and one of “terrorism” arising in relation to last year’s massacre, the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
He has already pleaded guilty to the charges.
At a pre-sentencing hearing on Monday, High Court judge Cameron Mander allowed Tarrant’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, to withdraw from proceedings at the request of their client. The two said the decision was within Tarrant’s rights.
“Tarrant has instructed counsel that he wishes to act for himself at sentence,” the lawyers said in a statement emailed to Reuters news agency. “We are not disappointed by Mr Tarrant’s decision.”
The judge ordered “standby counsel” to be available next month in case Tarrant – who appeared in the Christchurch court via video link from an Auckland prison – changed his mind.
New Zealand Muslim Association president Ikhlaq Kashkari questioned Tarrant’s motives, saying victims could be traumatised again if the attacker were allowed to spout far-right rhetoric from the dock.
“My first concern when I read this was ‘Oh my God, what’s this guy up to, is he going to use this as a platform to promote his views and thoughts?’,” he told AFP news agency.
“A lot of people are still going through trauma and this was seen as one of those events that would give them closure. I hope it’s not going to be something that will trigger more pain instead.”
In March 2019, Tarrant shot Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques, live-streaming the killings on Facebook as he went.
His victims included children, women and the elderly.
The former gym instructor unexpectedly reversed his not-guilty plea in March this year, removing the need for a lengthy trial.
The terrorism and murder charges all carry life sentences, setting a minimum non-parole period of 17 years while also giving the judge power to imprison Tarrant without the possibility of release. New Zealand does not have the death penalty.
Survivors and the families of victims will be present during the three-day sentencing hearing and Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand spokeswoman Anjum Rahman said many would not want to hear from Tarrant.
While she did not want to speculate on Tarrant’s motive for representing himself, she said: “He has shown in the past that he likes to get attention and he wants attention.
“I feel this is all part of that mindset.”