Christchurch terror attack: Experts split on whether terrorism charges should be laid

The Australian man accused of carrying out the Christchurch terror attack will appear in court for the second time on Friday, this time facing 50 charges of murder and 39 of attempted murder.

But legal experts disagree on whether the Crown should try and convict the 28-year-old of terrorism.

AUT law professor Kris Gledhill told Newshub there would be little point.

"A terrorism charge would add to the length of the trial without necessarily adding anything to the sentencing powers that would be available to the judge."

But Massey University legal professor Chris Gallivan disagrees, saying it's the principle that matters.

"It's not for the Crown to construct their case in order to be able to minimise any public impact - for example, let's keep it just to the murder charges so we don't bring in his manifesto as being relevant, as it would be if he was charged with terrorism," he told The AM Show on Friday.

"Let the court actually deal with the issue of suppression, the fallout, the chance of grandstanding... the Crown just looks at the facts of what happened, and charge accordingly and appropriate. I believe terrorism charges are something they will be seriously considering, and they should charge him."

He said the world will be watching, and New Zealand needs to show them how it's done.

"This is an incredibly rare circumstance that we get the opportunity to try a person in an open court, in a principled way, in a transparent way, in a fair way, and we have great responsibility here to do this properly and openly, and show to the world what a principled approach - as hard as it may be - is, rather than a compromised approach."

The accused now has two lawyers acting for him, allaying fears he'd turn the legal process into a circus.

He reportedly earlier said he'd represent himself, raising fears he'd plead not guilty and use the ensuing trial to spout hatred and publicise the ideas found in his alleged manifesto, which has been banned.

Chris Gallivan.
Chris Gallivan. Photo credit: The AM Show

Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson will represent the accused gunman.

"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," Tait said on Friday morning.

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

Media won't be allowed to film the suspect when he appears in the Christchurch High Court court via video link, facing 50 charges of murder and 39 of attempted murder. The judge will have the option of muting him, should he start talking about matters irrelevant to the charges.

But Gallivan says the hiring of a legal team should prevent that step from being required.

"While it might not be necessarily a popular view, these two barristers in Auckland are doing us all a huge favour," he told The AM Show.

"One of the fears of course was that he was going to self-represent and potentially use this as an opportunity to grandstand... if it went to defended hearing, the judge would probably have to wrestle with him to ensure it wasn't used as a platform."

Last month Gallivan said there were "disturbing" similarities between the Christchurch suspect's case and that of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. The latter's 2011 rampage left 77 dead, and at his trial he not only tried to justify his actions and explain his ideology, but gave Nazi salutes from the dock.

"If it's true he's going to be legally represented, that's a great thing and 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 said on Friday.

The suspect's appearance on Friday is likely to be brief and procedural. He's not expected to enter a plea. 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.