Kiwi taxpayers are footing the bill for the two lawyers now acting for the accused Christchurch gunman.

The 28-year-old Australian national appeared this morning via audio visual link from custody in the High Court at Christchurch.

He faces 50 charges of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. He is yet to enter any plea.

Auckland lawyers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, who have worked together for some 15 years, confirmed in a statement last night they have accepted instructions to act as counsel for the accused gunman.

Advertisement

The alleged killer had previously indicated he would represent himself.

But the Ministry of Justice confirmed today the accused has accessed the Police Detention Legal Assistance service.

Brett Dooley, group manager, national service delivery, said the alleged gunman was assisted by a duty lawyer and was granted legal aid for his appearance in court today.

"The legal aid system is designed to ensure people who cannot pay for a lawyer are provided with legal representation in court," he said in a statement.

"Legal aid is an important part of New Zealand's justice system – no one should be denied justice because they cannot afford a lawyer."

Dooley said decisions on whether to grant legal aid are made in accordance with the criteria set out in the Legal Services Act and associated regulations.

The legal aid system is overseen by the Legal Services Commissioner, an independent statutory officer who is also a senior manager at the Ministry of Justice.

However, Tait's chambers refused to discuss with the Herald whether the two lawyers were acting on legal aid.

Advertisement

They said no further detail about their client's case outside of their statement would be made available, the Herald was told.

"The right to consult and instruct a lawyer and the right to a fair and public hearing are protected rights that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides to every person in the country," Tait said.

"In any civilized society the rule of law must prevail. We will not be making any further comment in relation to this prosecution, or Mr [accused gunman's] custodial arrangements at this time."

Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson are now representing the accused Christchurch mosque mass murderer. Photo / Supplied
Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson are now representing the accused Christchurch mosque mass murderer. Photo / Supplied

Tait, a criminal defence lawyer who is well-known in legal circles in Auckland, has over the past two decades defended clients charged with murder, manslaughter, sexual offending, drug offending and fraud.

He was admitted to the bar in 1995 and has also been admitted to the bar in New South Wales.

Tait is also currently defending a 27-year-old man accused of murdering a woman in West Auckland.

He has been granted approval to conduct criminal legal aid cases and to appear before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of New Zealand.

Hudson has worked alongside Tait for more than a decade and still shares chambers with him despite now practising on his own.

"Jonathan and Shane regularly consult over upcoming cases and continue to assist each other in achieving strong results for their respective clients," their joint website reads.

In several cases, Hudson has challenged the admissibility of evidence and fought to recover assets taken by the Police using the Proceeds of Crime legislation.

He was recently involved in the trial of recidivist rapist Colin Jack Mitchell.

Hudson also has a Master of Law degree from the University of Sydney.

The accused gunman, pictured at his first court appearance when a judge ordered his face be blurred. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The accused gunman, pictured at his first court appearance when a judge ordered his face be blurred. Photo / Mark Mitchell

At today's hearing for the accused Christchurch gunman, Tait and Hudson requested a mental health assessment of their client under section 38 of the Mental Health Act.

Justice Cameron Mander ordered two health assessors' reports, which will determine whether the accused is mentally fit or impaired and whether he is able to enter pleas to the charges.

Tait told the court this could take two to three months to complete.

The judge, however, stressed the order was "normal procedure" and an "entirely ordinary and regular step" to be taken at this stage of the judicial process.

After the alleged gunman's first appearance in the District Court, duty lawyer Richard Peters told the Herald the accused "seemed quite clear and lucid".

"He didn't appear to me to be facing any challenges or mental impairment, other than holding fairly extreme views," Peter said, having briefly met and represented him.

Crown prosecutors are also still considering whether to lay charges under the seldom-used Terrorism Suppression Act, which was introduced after the September 11 US terrorist attacks.

Section five of the legislation defines what a terrorist act is.

It states that it must be intended to cause death or destruction in one or more countries, be carried out for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political or religious cause, and intended to induce terror in a civilian population or compel a government to act.

Prosecutors would require the consent of the Solicitor-General to lay terror charges against the accused.

The alleged gunman is currently being held at New Zealand's only maximum security prison in Paremoremo after he was flown to Auckland on an air force flight following his first appearance on March 16.

He will next appear in court in June.