Bail option on hold as capacity exceeded

Amelia Steel
Amelia Steel
Defendants eligible for remand on electronically monitored (EM) bail face being held in prison because the system is overloaded.

The 280 people on EM bail in New Zealand exceeded by 30 the capacity of 250, police prosecutor Tim Hambleton said in the Oamaru District Court yesterday.

He raised the issue in court because, he said, police were unable to consider any new applications for EM bail.

The system was beyond capacity and there was a lack of funding, he said.

New Zealand Police received specific funding to implement and administer the system, established in 2006.

EM bail allowed suitable defendants to live at approved addresses while wearing electronic anklets. By reducing numbers remanded in custody (a more expensive option), EM bail saved the Government money. At present, prisons were not full and could take those declined EM bail.

The halt in applications was frustrating some lawyers and their clients, many of whom were only made aware of the problem this week.

Southern district prosecution manager Senior Sergeant Amelia Steel, of Dunedin, on Monday outlined the situation in an email to New Zealand Law Society Otago branch manager Karl Hewitt.

Snr Sgt Steel asked Mr Hewitt to pass the information on to branch members.

Her email said police had reached capacity with EM bail and were not resourced ''beyond the current muster''. Therefore, police were not in a position to progress new applications.

Courts would be advised when police could return to ''business as usual''.

Until then, applications for EM bail still had to be received by court staff and forwarded to police, although they would be returned under a covering letter by the district prosecution manager.

Police Assistant Commissioner (operations) Nick Perry said police considered it ''prudent'' to cap numbers on EM bail to ensure the scheme continued to be managed effectively.

That was due in part to the system's ''success'', which had allowed the number on EM bail reach 280, he said.

''However, given the increasing success of the scheme, the finite nature of police resources, and pending formalisation of EM bail processes by Parliament, it was considered appropriate that those involved revisit the scheme to look at how its delivery might be both maintained and improved,'' Mr Perry said.

A group was considering options and members had agreed more work was needed before decisions were made.

The public could be reassured police would continue to advocate appropriate bail conditions to minimise the risk to public safety, he said.

Police provided a prosecution position on a defendant's suitability for EM bail, but decisions to grant EM bail were made by the judiciary.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

Bail conditions

If an accused is in prison, he can't be on bail. No-one would pay bail to go to jail. A good thing though, if those accused of violent crime are remanded in custody.

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