On 15 March 2019, Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch were attacked by a right-wing terrorist while worshippers were at prayer.  Fifty-one people were killed and another 40 people suffered gunshot injuries.


We use the description “affected whānau, survivors and witnesses” to refer to whānau of the 51 shuhada, and the survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack and their whānau. 


On 26 March 2020 an Australian man pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge relating to the attacks.  On 27 August 2020, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole – the first time in New Zealand history this sentence has been imposed.  He was later designated as a terrorist entity under section 22 of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.


Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Masjidain on 15 March 2019


Following the terrorist attack, the Government announced that a Royal Commission of Inquiry would consider the events leading up to the terrorist attack.  The Royal Commission was established by Order in Council on 8 April 2019.  It appointed the Honourable Sir William Young as Chair and set out our Terms of Reference.  Jacqui Caine was appointed as a Member of the Royal Commission on 22 May 2019.


Our Terms of Reference directed us to inquire into what Public sector agencies knew about the individual’s activities before the terrorist attack, what (if anything) they did with that information, what they could have done to prevent the terrorist attack and what they should do to prevent such terrorist attacks in the future.


As well, we were asked to investigate the individual’s activities before 15 March 2019, including his time in Australia, his arrival and residence in New Zealand, his travel within New Zealand and internationally, how he obtained a gun licence, weapons and ammunition, his use of social media and other online media and his connections with people, whether in New Zealand or internationally. 


Our Terms of Reference also directed us to make findings on:

  1. whether there was any information provided or otherwise available to relevant [Public] sector agencies that could or should have alerted them to the terrorist attack and, if such information was provided or otherwise available, how the agencies responded to any such information, and whether that response was appropriate; and
  2. the interaction amongst relevant [Public] sector agencies, including whether there was any failure in information sharing between the relevant agencies; and
  3. whether relevant [Public] sector agencies failed to anticipate or plan for the terrorist attack due to an inappropriate concentration of counter-terrorism resources or priorities on other terrorism threats; and
  4. whether any relevant [Public] sector agency failed to meet required standards or was otherwise at fault, whether in whole or in part; and
  5. any other matters relevant to the purpose of the inquiry, to the extent necessary to provide a complete report.


And we were directed to make recommendations on:

  1. whether there is any improvement to information gathering, sharing, and analysis practices by relevant [Public] sector agencies that could have prevented the terrorist attack, or could prevent such terrorist attacks in the future, including, but not limited to, the timeliness, adequacy, effectiveness, and co-ordination of information disclosure, sharing, or matching between relevant [Public] sector agencies; and
  2. what changes, if any, should be implemented to improve relevant [Public] sector agency systems, or operational practices, to ensure the prevention of such terrorist attacks in the future; and
  3. any other matters relevant to the above, to the extent necessary to provide a complete report.


In doing this, our Terms of Reference also specified:


The Government expects the inquiry to connect with New Zealand’s Muslim communities on these matters.


The Government expects the inquiry to connect with New Zealand’s Muslim communities on these matters.


(2)  The inquiry must not inquire into the guilt or innocence of any individual who has been, or may be, charged with offences in relation to the terrorist attack.

(3)  The inquiry must not inquire into, determine, or report in an interim or final way on, any of the following matters:

(a)  amendments to firearms legislation (because the Government is already pursuing this issue);

(b)  activity by entities or organisations outside the [Public] sector, such as media platforms; and

(c)  how relevant [Public] sector agencies responded to the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019 once it had begun.

Inquiry timeline


The Royal Commission started on 10 April 2019 and began receiving evidence from 13 May 2019.  Our inquiry had several overlapping phases, from establishment to engagement with communities, information and evidence gathering, analysis and deliberations, holding evidential interviews and report development and presentation.


Initially we had to present our report to the Governor-General by 10 December 2019, but this was subsequently extended on two occasions, resulting in a final reporting date of 26 November 2020.  These extensions were necessary because of the sheer volume of material we had to assess and the disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Governor-General will present the report to the Minister of Internal Affairs.  It is then for the Minister to present the report to Parliament as soon as practicable.  Our report has been written on the basis that it can be publicly released in full.