Terror charge feeds accused mosque shooter's desire for notoriety, expert says

Alexander Gillespie, professor of law at the University of Waikato, says the terror charge could be exactly what the accused mosque gunman wants.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Alexander Gillespie, professor of law at the University of Waikato, says the terror charge could be exactly what the accused mosque gunman wants.

Charging the mosque terror attack suspect with terrorism could "open a Pandora's box" and give him the notoriety he potentially craves, an international law expert says.

Commissioner Mike Bush on Tuesday said police had charged a 28-year-old Australian national with engaging in a terrorist act under New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act.

It is the first time anyone has been charged under the terror laws, and comes on top of 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder.

Law professor Alexander Gillespie, of Waikato University, said an extra life term for terrorism would not add anything significant to a sentence if the suspect is convicted of the 51 murder charges.

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But such a charge meant if he pleads not guilty it introduced the risk  "that he gets a platform and gets to explain to the world why he did what he did and tries to justify it".

"In that process he might get some sound bites that go as viral as his alleged livestream video."

Gillespie compared it to the trial of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who pleaded not guilty and then gave a Nazi salute on the first day of his trial, before raising an argument that he was trying to defend his culture.

"Normally these people want notoriety. If he gets to say something in his trial which the judge cannot suppress because he has a presumption of innocence and he has the right to answer every charge, he could score a victory."

The man accused of committing the March 15 terror attacks in Christchurch faces a new terror charge, along with 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder.
SUPPLIED
The man accused of committing the March 15 terror attacks in Christchurch faces a new terror charge, along with 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder.

The terror legislation was designed for groups like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other commonly listed terror groups, rather than domestic crimes, Gillespie suggested.

The 2014 baby formula poisoning in which blackmailer Jeremy Kerr threatened to contaminate milk with 1080 poison was dealt with under the Crimes Act, despite ministers labelling it "eco-terrorism".

When Auckland ISIS sympathiser Imran Patel was convicted in 2016, it was under the Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act for possessing prohibited material.

The terror charge distinguishes the gravity of the Christchurch mosque massacres from other types of murder, Gillespie said – something many families of the victims may want.

Dozens of people were hospitalised after the March 15 terror attacks that killed 51 people in two Christchurch mosques, including Al Noor in Deans Ave, pictured.
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF
Dozens of people were hospitalised after the March 15 terror attacks that killed 51 people in two Christchurch mosques, including Al Noor in Deans Ave, pictured.

"For some people, some crimes are of such a magnitude that you can't put them into normal legal brackets.

"You think of the Second World War and the crimes the Nazis did, it wouldn't have been sufficient to say they did lots of murder – you had to create a new category to reflect the societal understanding and repugnance of what happened.

"With terrorism, the intention matters."

Gillespie suggested that terror laws should be used because they are available.

"In this instance, if the law is ever going to fit, this would probably be it."

Police met with shooting victim's families and survivors on Tuesday to inform them of the new charges and update them on the police investigation. 

The alleged shooter is due to appear in the High Court in June.

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