Accused Christchurch gunman pleads not guilty to 51 charges of murder

The Australian man accused of shooting dead 51 worshippers at two New Zealand mosques has pleaded not guilty to murder and terror charges.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, will stand trial next year after on Friday denying 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism offence over the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

Watching the proceedings in the High Court at Christchurch by video from a prison cell, Tarrant smiled as his lawyer entered pleas to all 92 charges.

A trial has been scheduled to begin on May 4, 2020, and prosecutors estimate it may run six weeks.

Brenton Tarrant has pleaded not guilty to 51 murder charges. Source: AAP

Dozens of relatives of victims and survivors packed the courtroom, some visibly nervous during the hearing, other in tears as the pleas were entered.

Two further courts and some 200 seats were set aside for the public, police maintaining a heavy presence through the building, .

The court on Friday also found Tarrant was mentally fit to stand trial after earlier requesting routine reports.

The terror charge against him, laid last month, will be the first prosecution of its kind in New Zealand and some legal experts say it could potentially lead to a complex trial.

But Christchurch's Muslim community has welcomed the decision by prosecutors to treat the shootings as an act of terrorism.

Tarrant is being held in New Zealand's only maximum security jail, in Auckland, and prison staff say he has no access to television, radio, newspapers or visitors.

Amid concerns his trial could be used to espoused far-right extremist views, New Zealand’s major media organisations have agreed to self-imposed restrictions on reporting.

Tarrant's case will return to court on August 16.

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