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The Christchurch Massacre and the Rule of Law Clive Elliott QC

regrettably true. The increasing retreat from facts and truth as the cornerstone of a properly informed and truly free liberal democracy is disturbing. Equally disturbing is the attack against the rule of law and the separation of powers that ensures that democracy survives. These principles simply cannot be taken for granted any longer.

The brutal massacre of ordinary New Zealanders worshipping in Christchurch on 15 March is a long overdue wake-up call for New Zealand. The first and most important thing is of course to mourn and respect those who have died and to join and support them in their grieving. The Bar Association expresses its sincere condolences to all the families suffering their unimaginable and terrible loss.

In times like this we really need to take stock of the situation. Christchurch tells us that the line between order and chaos is a very fine one. What right-wing extremists like this seek to do is to reject the rule of law and replace it with their own warped view, where the superior white races rule the inferior, through force of arms rather than respect for others, the pursuit of truth and respect for justice.

The second is to ensure that the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of innocent people on such a large scale never again happens in this country.

Timothy Snyder of Yale University’s comments in “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” have a particular resonance. He argues that it is critical for liberal democracies to defend their institutions because it is only through institutions, including civic groups, that decency and respect for others will be preserved. He contends that institutions are unable to protect themselves and it is only through individual action that this can be achieved and that this applies equally to our courts and judges, the media and civic groups.

This callous act, perpetrated against peaceful worshippers going about their own lawful business reminds us that the line between a peaceful, free and safe community and one ruled by the fanatics with lawfully purchased automatic weapons dressed in military fatigues is a very fine one. All it takes is one radicalised individual to enter a place of worship, whether it be a church, temple or mosque and wreak havoc on the group of innocent people, including women and children he has never met and will never know.

Sadly, the retort that it won’t happen here is no longer true. It can and has happened here and we all need to stand up and call terrorism for what it is and regardless of the cause. Parliament, and that means both sides of the House, need to finish what they have started and ban automatic and semiautomatic military-style weapons. They have no place in a law-abiding, tolerant and free democratic society. If we don’t do this now those who seek to replace the rule of law with the rule of the gun, will have won the battle. The sincere hope is that the days of military style weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens are numbered, this time for good.

This is the cold, faceless terror which radicalised and extremist elements seek to inflict on their perceived inferiors and enemies. The manifestoes propagated by the likes of both ISIS and white supremacists are disturbingly alike; based on perverted religious interpretations, delusion and deep-seated imagined wrongs - fanned by hatred and a sick sense of superiority. Whether Jihadists or right-wing supremacists their goals are the same; to drive decent, caring people from the political centre towards their extremist views and towards a holy war of their making. The Attorney-General’s observation at the recent candlelight vigil in Auckland that the enlightenment is under attack around the world is

* Clive Elliott QC is the immediate Past President of the NZBA and a barrister at Shortland Chambers.


Profile for New Zealand Bar Association

At the Bar April 2019