Tarrant sentenced to life without parole

This afternoon Justice Mander condemned the Christchurch mosque killer Brenton Tarrant and sentenced him to life without parole.

“A life sentence without parole… The rhetorical question – if not here, then when?”

On each of the 51 charges of murder (charges 1-51) you are sentenced to life imprisonment. I order that you serve the sentences without parole.

On each of the 40 charges of attempted murder (charges 52-91) you are sentenced to concurrent terms of 12 years’ imprisonment.

On the charge of committing a terrorist act (charge 92) you are sentenced to life imprisonment.

The sentences will be served concurrently, which means little with a no parole life sentence .

Judgment: R v Tarrant
(Note: start from paragraph 145 to skip some harrowing details and go to the sentencing)

Date of Judgment 27 August 2020

Summary Offender pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of committing a terrorist act after shooting worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch. Court held that no minimum period of imprisonment would be sufficient to satisfy the purpose of sentencing. Offender sentenced to life imprisonment without parole under s 103 (2A) Sentencing Act 2002.

From the judgment:

The distribution of your manifesto, the livestreaming of your crimes, during which you addressed your online audience and provided a running commentary;andthe affectation of decorating your weapons and playing music, were all undertaken to obtain maximum attention and notorietyboth to yourself and your cause. You saw your interview with police as an opportunity to boast about what you had done and to rationalise your actions. If anything more is required beyond your murder of innocent lives, these features point to the depth of your motivation, as does the long period of time over which you planned this terrorism and the lengths you went to execute your ideologically-driven crimes.

lives, these features point to the depth of your motivation, as does the long period of time over which you planned this terrorism and the lengths you went to execute your ideologically-drivencrimes.[173]I am sceptical of your recent representations of having abandoned the ideology that motivated you. You have admitted having lied in the course of earlier assessments and both health assessors express reservations regarding the extentto whichyour most recent statements and changing motives can be relied upon.Your admission that you were aware that what you intended to do was wrong,andyet,thatyou went ahead despite such knowledge,points both to the hold your extremism had over you and its potential to continue to influence you in the most catastrophic of ways.

While you have expressed a willingness to engage in some form of restorative justice process inthe future,it is not apparent from the reports I have read that you have shown muchinterest in your victims, let alone any remorse or empathy for the people you have killed and wounded, or for the wider harm you have caused.You haveto datebeendismissive of any potential rehabilitative interventions.While perhaps reflective of your fluctuating moods,your pastresponseshave beenthat you do not want help; that professionals do not have the training or expertise to deal with your issues. More recently you have indicated an unwillingness to engage with the Department of Corrections.

On the sentence:

Having given the matter much consideration, I am satisfied that no minimum period of imprisonment would be sufficient to satisfy the legitimate need to hold you to account for the harm you have done to the community. Nor do I consider that any minimum term of imprisonment would be sufficient to denounce your crimes. The nature and circumstances of your offending, unprecedented in this country, are such that I consider the requirement that you serve your sentences of life imprisonment for murder without parole is a necessary sanction that provides a proportionate response.

If I was to impose a minimum period of imprisonment in an endeavour to meet the purposes that I am required to achieve in sentencing you for murdering 51 people, it could not be less than your natural life. If the murders at the two mosques were approached as separate attacks,each realistically would have to attract minimum terms in the region of 40 years.In the case of the Al Noor Mosque where you murdered 44 people,a significantly higher term would have to be imposed. Even after factoring in your guilty pleas,that feature is quickly superseded by the need to reflect the associated offending that includes your convictions for attempting to murder 40 other people, all of whom suffered serious gunshot wounds and, most, lasting life-altering injuries. In committing this terrible act you of course attempted to kill many more.

The need to make an order that you serve your sentence without parole does not primarily arise from deterrence nor from the need to protect the community from you, powerful as both considerations are when dealing with an offender capable of such terrible crimes and the necessity of delivering a cogent message that the commission of such an atrocity will be met with the most condign response. However, I am mindful that as the years pass and you become a much older man,the risk you pose could be reassessed.The need for deterrence is also clear but the deluded motivation of zealots capable of such crimes, with their overvalued beliefs that feed such extreme violence,are less likely to be tempered by the fear of penal consequences no matter how severe.

Your crimes, however, are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die,it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment and enunciation. Those legitimate penological grounds for continued detention will remain. At nearly 30 years of age, you are a relatively young man and the justifications for your continued detention over time may shift as the years pass. Some may change but I do not consider, however long the length of your incarceration during your lifetime, that it could, evenin a modest way, at one for what you have done. Ordinarily such an approach would be a poor guarantee of just and proportionate punishment, but I consider yours one of those exceedingly rare cases which is different.

For completeness, I record that if I am wrong tosentenceyou on the basis that the Court retains a residual discretion todecidewhether to impose a life sentence without parole,despite having concluded that no minimum term of imprisonment would be sufficient tohold you to account for the harm you have done,or to denounce your conduct, a whole-of-life sentence would have to follow in any event.

Patrick Gower has done a brief summary of the judge’s address on Twitter:

“Vicious malevolence.” “Pitiless cruelty.” ““Warped and malignant ideas.”

“Anathema to our values.” “It has no place here.” “You remain entirely self-obsessed.” “Your offending is without precedence.”

“Such malice, such callous indifference.”

“Even if you are detained until you die it will not contain enough punishment and denunciation.”

To victims: “I wish them peace and happiness.”

Life Without Parole appeal

Last week the Court of Appeal ruled against the Crown in two cases involving the 3 strikes legislation.

Court of Appeal Judgment R v Harrison and R v Turner

The Court of Appeal media release aimed at assisting understanding of the judgment:


R v JUSTIN VANCE TURNER (CA114/2015) [2016]


This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It does not comprise part of the reasons for that judgment. The full judgment with reasons is the only authoritative document.

The Court of Appeal has today dismissed the Solicitor-General’s appeal against sentence in the case of Shane Harrison but allowed the appeal against sentence in the case of Justin Turner in part, increasing the minimum period of imprisonment of his life sentence to 17 years.

These appeals were the first to challenge the application of s 86E of the Sentencing Act 2002, part of the so-called “three strikes” legislation. Section 86E requires a person convicted of murder after committing a “serious violent offence” (a “stage-1 offence”) to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, unless that would be manifestly unjust. In the High Court the sentencing judges, Mallon and Woolford JJ respectively, found it would be manifestly unjust to sentence Mr Harrison and Mr Turner to a whole of life sentence. A Full Court of the Court of Appeal has agreed with this conclusion.

The crux of the appeals turned on the meaning of “manifestly unjust”. The Solicitor-General contended that manifest injustice would be established in rare and exceptional circumstances only such that the exception was a very narrow one. Section 86E created a statutory presumption that there should be a higher level of punishment for repeat violent offenders, irrespective of their actual culpability. This was the basic rationale behind the three-strikes regime. The Solicitor-General accepted that the manifestly unjust exception involved a 2 judicial discretion to ensure that the presumption in s 86E did not infringe s 9 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 — the right not to be subjected to disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

The Court of Appeal considered the likelihood of grossly disproportionate sentences arising from the application of s 86E to be high. A key reason included the breadth of the qualifying catchment, namely a previous conviction for a “serious violent offence”. The offences within that definition number 40 and are extremely wide-ranging, producing an infinite range of circumstances of offending.

The consequences of the application of a whole of life sentence also contributed to the potential for gross disproportionality. Such a sentence provides no opportunity for review. For a sample of actual murder cases from 2009–2010, the length of time spent in prison, on average, was calculated to be upwards of 35 years, significantly longer than an offender sentenced for murder would usually serve.

Given the high likelihood of a sentence imposed under s 86E being grossly disproportionate, the Court concluded that the meaning of “manifestly unjust” must be interpreted broadly. Its application requires an intensely factual consideration of the circumstances of the offending and the offender, including: the sentence that would otherwise be appropriate for this offending, the consequences of a whole of life sentence, the actual culpability of the offending and the risk posed by the offender. Ultimately, the judicial approach to the scope of the manifestly unjust exception is intended to avoid wholly disproportionate sentencing outcomes.

Applying this approach to Mr Harrison’s and Mr Turner’s cases, the Court agreed it would be manifestly unjust to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in each case. For Mr Harrison, the Court agreed with Mallon J that the low culpability of Mr Harrison’s stage-1 offence, together with his attempts to rehabilitate, his age and the views of the victim’s family, would have made a whole of life sentence grossly disproportionate. The Court also noted that Mr Harrison was only a secondary party to the murder.

In Mr Turner’s case, the Court concluded that although the circumstances of his offending were brutal, his age, guilty plea and mental health difficulties culminated to make a whole of life sentence grossly disproportionate. However, the Court agreed with the Solicitor-General that the appropriate minimum period of imprisonment was 17 years rather than 15 years as imposed by Woolford J.

Mr Harrison and Mr Turner also sought a declaration of inconsistency with the Bill of Rights Act, contending both s 9 and s 22 were breached by s 86E of the Sentencing Act. The Court declined such a declaration on the basis that a rights-consistent interpretation of s 86E was possible. The Court noted, however, that if the manifestly unjust safeguard did not operate to prevent gross disproportionality, this could be addressed at a later time.

As an ACT MP David Garrett was the driving force behind the 3 strikes legislation. He responds to this decision in detail in a guest post at Kiwiblog: Guest Post: Appeal Court refuses to apply LWOP