Christchurch terror attack: Accused appears in court, enters no plea

The man accused of carrying out a mass shooting on two Christchurch mosques that left 50 people dead will undergo a mental health assessment before his next appearance.

The 28-year-old Australian appeared in court for a second time on Friday, charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 of attempted murder, after allegedly opening fire in Al Noor and Linwood mosques on March 15.

It was a largely procedural appearance. The accused was remanded in custody by Justice Cameron Mander until June 14, when he will appear again - and may be required to enter a plea.

Publishing photos or videos of the suspect will remain banned until then, when the suppression will be reassessed. 

A family member of one of the victims told Newshub they were disappointed with the decision to carry out a health assessment, saying the court process should be "quick and simple".

Mental health assessment - what it means

Justice Mander said having the suspect undergo a mental health assessment is normal procedure. Massey University legal expert Chris Gallivan told The AM Show on Friday the legal definition of insanity is different to what medical professionals use.

"The court needs to satisfy itself not whether he was insane at the time - that's an issue for way down the track - but whether he's mentally capable of engaging with counsel, whether he's mentally able to understand the proceedings themselves," Gallivan explained.

"The court needs to be assured of that before it can even go to an issue of him pleading to the charges. If it's determined he's not… then effectively he's kept at Her Majesty's pleasure in a secure psychiatric unit until such time he's deemed able to be able to engage with the processes."

Being deemed unfit for trial now wouldn't stop justice from being served at a later date, should the suspect's mental health improve.

"It's a hiatus," said Gallivan, adding that the accused "may be that he's suffering from such a disorder, but is still able to understand and comprehend the court processes and instruct a lawyer sufficient for this to go ahead".

Suspect won't self-represent

On Friday morning two lawyers confirmed they would be defending the accused.

"The right to consult and instruct a lawyer and the right to a fair public hearing are protected rights that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides to every person in this country," barrister Shane Tait said on Friday morning.

"In any civilised society the rule of law must prevail."

The other representing the alleged killer is Jonathan Hudson.

Gallivan said on Friday the pair should be thanked for their service.

"These two barristers are doing not only their client a service, but actually the rest us, and also the victims a great service as well to keep it on track and keep it focused on what is legally relevant," Gallivan told The AM Show.

Gallivan had previously feared the accused would self-represent, and use the legal process to "spout his vitriol and worldview".

Twelve media organisations from here and overseas reportedly applied to be allowed to photograph, film and make audio recordings of the proceedings, but were denied.

Police have said they are considering additional charges, including terrorism.

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