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Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman sentencing date set

After a three-month wait, a date has finally been set for the sentencing of the man responsible for this country's worst act of terrorism.

At the High Court in Christchurch, Brenton Tarrant admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act. Photo: Supplied / Pool

In March, Brenton Tarrant made a late guilty plea to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

They related to the attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on 15 March 2019.

In a minute issued on Thursday by Justice Cameron Mander it was announced the sentencing would now take place on Monday 24 August at 10am.

Justice Mander said the reason for the delay in announcing a date was due to the number of family and victims overseas unable to return to New Zealand for the sentencing due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Only those with New Zealand citizenship were currently allowed to re-enter the country and the Ministry of Justice had been waiting to hear from Immigration New Zealand if a "limited exceptions" process could be used to allow non-citizens to return.

"INZ has been unable to confirm whether the 'limited exceptions' process can be made available to overseas victims and their families," Justice Mander said, adding that the option had therefore not been given to those overseas.

At the same time, he was having to weigh the interests of those who were able to attend the hearing.

"I am also aware that many of the victims have found the elongated court process to be exhausting and frustrating. They wish sentencing to happen as soon as realistically possible. Finality and closure is considered by some as the best means of bringing relief to the Muslim community."

With so much uncertainty remaining about when the border would reopen, Justice Mander decided on 24 August as a compromise.

"It is hoped that by setting a date for sentencing some certainty and reassurance will be provided to those victims and their families who wish to have the criminal proceeding concluded and allow them to obtain some level of closure that would not otherwise be possible if the matter remains in its open-ended state."

He hoped the nearly two-month wait would provide enough time for those overseas that were able to return to do so, and spend the mandatory 14 days in isolation.

"It should also provide a sufficient period to determine whether the 'limited exceptions' process can be utilised to facilitate the attendance of other people, in particular victims and persons supporting families of the deceased who are not New Zealand citizens or residents."

Justice Mander said for those who could not make it back, technology such as live streaming using video conferencing could be used to allow them to attend remotely.

Three days had been set aside for the sentencing including victim impact statements from families and victims, but the judge said the hearing would take "as long as is necessary".

The summary of facts, outlining the offending, would be read out as part of the sentencing.

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