Auckland, January 10, 2021
The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand (IWCNZ) has said that absence of free legal counsel and other issues confronting the victims of the Christchurch Massacre of March 15, 2019 have created an imbalance in the service of justice.
A press note issued by the Council said that on December 14, 2020, the Chief Coroner wrote to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack and to a few other organisations seeking information of ‘matters that may have been missed in the Royal Commission of Inquiry Report, which was made public on December 8, 2020.
On the same day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tabled the Report in Parliament.
The Commission’s 800-page Report had made 44 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the government. Ms Ardern apologised to the Muslim community and the families of victims of the tragedy for the lapses mentioned in the Report. Similar apologies were tendered by NZSIS Director General Rebecca Kitteridge and Police Commissioner Andy Coster.
Funding for legal counsel
The IWCNZ said that in order to make a proper assessment and report to the Chief Coroner, the families of victims required funding for independent, senior and appropriately qualified legal counsel.
“Such counsel would assist the families to understand the Royal Commission Report and identifying gaps, to understand the powers and processes used by the Chief Coroner and to make the required response. State agencies and officials have full access to legal advice, which they have used as needed. This, yet again, creates a huge imbalance when families have not been provided with similar access to independent legal counsel, even to a minimal degree. There can be no justice when such a clear imbalance remains,” the Council said.
Christchurch Earthquakes Inquiry
Stating that the Chief Coroner has the power to inquire into the causes of death and to make recommendations on actions and systemic changes that would prevent such deaths in the future, the IWNNZ said this is not limited to the immediate cause of death.
“The Chief Coroner conducted an inquiry into deaths caused by the collapse of a building during the Christchurch earthquakes, after a Royal Commission Inquiry into that matter. That inquiry looked further than the immediate cause being the collapse of the building. It investigated the reasons why the building collapsed, including design and construction of the building. Similarly, the Chief Coroner must inquire into the cause of death for the victims of the terrorist attacks into the Christchurch Mosques,” it said.
According to the Council, there should be a more in-depth inquiry into the path to radicalisation of the terrorist.
Challenging the evidence
“The Royal Commission of Inquiry into these terrorist attacks was focused, in line with the terms of reference, on what the government knew or ought to have known about the terrorist. In fact, they were precluded from looking into wider matters, for example, the impact of social media platforms. The evidence and submissions of state agencies has been sealed, and the hearings with them were held in private. There was no opportunity for members of the public to challenge any of the evidence, nor were any members of the public (or their legal counsel) allowed to gain security clearance in order to do so. IWCNZ calls on the Chief Coroner to do all in her power to ensure justice for the victims,” it said.