New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern concedes there is little she can say to ease the harm that will be revisited at next week’s sentencing of Christchurch mosque terrorist Brenton Tarrant.
The four-day hearing of the High Court beginning on Monday will put a full stop after one of New Zealand’s most traumatic days.
On March 15, 2019, the Australian terrorist attacked two houses of faith, killing 51 worshippers and injuring scores of others.
Tarrant’s decision to livestream his crimes and publish a screed of his fascist views left no doubt to his guilt. However, it was not until March 2020 that the 29-year-old confessed his crimes and was convicted.
Now 17 months after the atrocity, the matter will come to a close in court.
Ms Ardern’s big-hearted leadership in the wake of NZ’s worst mass shooting won plaudits around the world.
“I don’t think there is much that I can say is going to ease, just how traumatic that period is going to be,” she said on Friday.
“But we are doing everything we can to make sure that those families and victims have all the support that they need.
“[It will be] particularly hard for victims who have family members offshore, because of course with COVID it’s the double-whammy of not being able to necessarily be well supported so we’ve done what we can to try to bridge that gap for as many people as we can.
“The whole process is likely to take some time. And that’s as it should be.
“People need to be able to be heard.”
The sentencing is unprecedented in size for New Zealand.
Justice Cameron Mander has confirmed 66 individuals will give victim impact statements, delivered by themselves or a victim support worker, during the sentencing.
That includes a string of overseas-based Kiwis and foreigners who have travelled to New Zealand for the sentencing.
About 50 victims and family members from Australia, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore are heading to Christchurch.
Ms Ardern said the country’s mandatory isolation regime would unfortunately prevent some of them from being present in court.
They will instead watch on a livestream.
Ms Ardern has decided if she will join them.
“But you can imagine I will be keeping a very close eye on what happens in that court,” she said.
The sentencing was delayed by the onset of COVID-19 as Justice Mander stressed he wanted to give as many victims the chance to attend as possible.
A fresh outbreak in Auckland last week has complicated the sentencing further, regrettably minimising access to the court.
Seven overflow courtrooms will be utilised for victims, their families and support people, with a small number reserved for media and even fewer for the public; 12 seats.
Some victims have told support officers they will attend by themselves, freeing up seats for more victims.
A breakout room, prayer room, family room and various health services will be on site.
For those overseas, a livestream with simultaneous translation in eight languages has been established to allow victims and international media to tune in
Court staff say the livestream will be monitored and any unauthorised attempts to view the feed will be shut down.
It is an offence to take recordings or share the livestream.
Outside the court, Christchurch Police have warned locals of an enhanced police presence.
“This is an unprecedented event with a large number of victims and their families expected to attend court,” Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price said.
Given Tarrant will represent himself, the 29-year-old will be transported from Auckland’s Paremoremo Prison to the court in Christchurch.
Tarrant sacked his legal team in July, electing to represent himself, but may also call upon standby counsel.