Christchurch terror attack: Taxpayers foot $392K legal bill for man behind mosque massacre

The legal aid bill for the man responsible for the Christchurch terror attack has almost reached $400,000 – and will rise even further if he decides to appeal his sentence of life without parole.

Since March 30, 2020, legal aid invoices totalling $216,177 have been paid to lawyers acting for mass murderer and terrorist Brenton Harrison Tarrant.

The figure includes $211,604 for High Court matters and $4573 for Court of Appeal matters.

The High Court matters encompass the killer’s sentencing in August last year – an unprecedented four-day hearing before Justice Cameron Mander.

At the end of the hearing, Tarrant became the first person in New Zealand legal history to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Herald had earlier reported on the gunman’s legal aid bill, revealing that up to March 30 2020 a total figure of $176,788 had been paid.

That brings the current total legal aid bill – as of yesterday’s date – to $392,966.

On March 15, 2019, the offender enacted a horrendous planned attack on two Christchurch mosques.

In the attack, which was livestreamed on Facebook, 51 were fatally wounded and 40 others injured.

The lone gunman was charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder – and was also the first person to be charged and convicted of engaging in a terrorist act under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

At his first court appearance, he was represented by a duty lawyer.

He soon indicated he intended to represent himself but then the accessed legal aid and Auckland barristers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson took on his case.

The legal aid system is designed to ensure people who cannot pay for a lawyer are provided with legal representation in court -and is an important part of New Zealand’s justice system.

It ensures people are not “denied justice because they can’t afford a lawyer”.

In addition to payment for their work, legal aid lawyers can also claim other costs associated with representation, such as travel and paying expert witnesses.

The offender sacked the Auckland defence duo after he unexpectedly pleaded guilty to all of the charges.

Again he indicated he would self represent at sentencing – an unprecedented four-day hearing before Justice Cameron Mander in the High Court at Christchurch.

However, Pip Hall QC was then instructed to act as stand by counsel.

Tarrant’s legal aid bill will likely rise further as he is said to be considering appealing his sentencing.

Last month it was revealed he had engaged Dr Tony Ellis, a prominent human rights lawyer.

Ellis was hired after Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall confirmed an inquest would be held into the terror attack.

Tarrant claimed, through Ellis, that he only admitted the charges against him because of “inhumane and degrading treatment ” he experienced in prison while awaiting trial.

Brenton Tarrant’s lawyer, Dr Tony Ellis, has made the claim on his behalf in a memo to Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall ahead of the Coronial Inquiry into the mass killing.

In a memo to Chief Coroner Marshall, Ellis said the terrorist believed his right to a fair trial was compromised, that his guilty pleas were obtained by “duress” and the conditions under which he pleaded needed to be taken into consideration.

Ellis said that it could be a breach of the Bill of Rights because he was “subject to inhumane or degrading treatment while on remand, which prevented a fair trial”.

“He sent me about 15 pages of narrative of how he had been treated since he’d been in prison,” Ellis said.

“He said because of how he was treated while he was awaiting trial and afterwards, [that affected] his will to carry on and he decided that the simplest way out was to plead guilty.

“By this, he means he was subject to inhuman or degrading treatment while on remand, which prevented a fair trial.”

In the memo, Ellis also raised his lack of access to counsel, information and to documentation which would impact his ability to participate in the Coronial Inquiry.

The Chief Coroner had written directly to the inmate, informing him of her decision to hold a Coronial Inquiry, but those letters were not passed on, Ellis said.

The attacker had also been sent two copies of the Royal Commission which were withheld from him by the department.

Without access to those documents, he advised his lawyer that he was unable to give detailed instructions ahead of any proceedings.

Ellis argued this was a “serious breach of human rights” and the “behaviour is deeply offensive, and unlawful” because he was no longer being treated as human.

“Tarrant is no longer a suspect, but a convicted criminal in detention; despite his horrific crimes that part of his legal life is over.

“He has been tried and sentenced and is entitled to be treated as a human.”

Ellis said he had advised Tarrant to appeal his sentence of life without the possibility of parole, because it is what is called a “sentence of no hope”.

He appreciated the significant distress his instruction would have on the affected victims and families but said it was Tarrant’s;s right to appeal.

“Carrying out client’s instructions is every barrister’s duty, and whilst this case is likely to be the pinnacle of professional difficulty, every accused or convicted person is entitled to exercise his right of access to the court,” he said.

Days later Ellis confirmed he was no longer representing the shooter, who had dismissed him as counsel.

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