The lawyers who were acting for the Christchurch mosque gunman say they are "not disappointed" at being sacked ahead of next month's sentencing.
Australian national Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 29, now intends to repesent himself at sentencing on August 24, a date unaffected by today's shock announcement.
He had entered guilty pleas to all 51 murder charges at a hastily-arranged High Court hearing in Christchurch on March 26 - the first day of the nationwide Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown.
Along with the murders, the gunman has been convicted on all charges, including 40 counts of attempted murder relating to the two attacks at Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15 last year - and pleaded guilty to one charge of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
His sentencing has been delayed by the global coronavirus pandemic, but last week it was confirmed that it would begin on August 24 in the city his terror attack took place – and the hearing could last three or more days.
'We are not disappointed': Sacked lawyers
Tarrant's former lawyers say there was no ill-feeling which prompted their dumping.
"We are not disappointed by Mr Tarrant's decision," Jonathan Hudson told the Herald after this morning's hearing.
"There has been no conflict or relationship breakdown."
Hudson added that Tarrant has the right to represent himself in court proceedings "and has chosen to do so".
This morning, at the High Court in Christchurch in front of some shooting survivors, family liaison representatives, and senior detectives, the sentencing date was formally confirmed.
And his defence team, Auckland-based lawyers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson who have appeared for Tarrant since his second court appearance on April 5 last year, applied for permission to withdraw as the gunman's counsel.
They said they had received instructions from Tarrant to withdraw as his lawyers because he wishes to exercise his right to represent himself at sentencing.
At a pre-trial callover this morning, Justice Cameron Mander checked with Tarrant – who appeared in court from custody via audio visual link – that he wanted to now represent himself.
After the judge was satisfied that Tarrant understood his rights to have legal representation - and that he wished to waive those rights – Justice Mander approved the move.
Next month's sentencing to continue
The judge said it would not affect the sentencing of the gunman, which will proceed on August 24.
However, given that the mosque shooter now wants to represent himself, Justice Mander said he would appoint a new lawyer in the role of standby counsel.
The judge explained to the court that standby counsel would be able to assist Tarrant during the court process – if he wants it. They will also be on standby to help if he later decides he does wish to be legally represented.
The outcome of this morning's hearing was delayed by an hour so victims and family members could be updated.
Tarrant was remanded in custody until August 24, when sentencing will begin and the Crown's summary of facts will be read out.
Justice Mander has called for a pre-sentence report and victim impact statements.
The Ministry of Justice, alongside the courts, has been working to put in place "technology options", including a livestreaming link, to help victims who are overseas and unable to travel to view the sentencing hearing and read a victim impact statements remotely.
On Friday, it was revealed that overseas-based victims of the mosque shootings will receive special border passes to fly into New Zealand and witness the gunman's sentencing next month.
The Government said it will extend the border exception criteria to help some offshore victims and support people attend the sentencing.
"We want to support our valued Muslim brothers and sisters who were directly affected by this tragic event and understand that some who are now offshore do want to attend the sentencing," said Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.
"We have quickly established a process to allow victims and a family member or support person to come to New Zealand using new humanitarian grounds. This is within our intent for the use of this provision."
The mosque killer's sentencing had been delayed by Covid-19 and was finally confirmed by the courts last week.
With New Zealand's borders staying closed to everyone other than citizens and residents, Justice Mander said there had been extensive efforts to "assess potential steps to assist victims and family members" currently overseas to travel to New Zealand to attend the sentencing.
It was also announced last week that a one-off extension to the Victim Assistance Scheme will financially support more victims of the mosque attacks to travel to attend sentencing.
The extension enables all victims who were present in the mosques at the time of the attacks to be eligible to receive contributions towards travel-related costs, rather than just being restricted to those who suffered gunshot injuries, and the families of the deceased.
"This one-off exception recognises the unprecedented nature of the attacks and the trauma on all victims who were present. Sentencing is an important part of our justice process," said the Ministry of Justice's chief operating officer Carl Crafar.
Victim Support, which administers the Victim Assistance Scheme on behalf of the ministry, welcomed the move.
"This extension will help victims of the Al Noor and Linwood Mosque attacks to engage with the criminal justice system, supporting their healing and safety," said Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso.