The Independent Police Conduct Authority has completed its investigation into an incident on 6 December 2017, when Police custody staff left a woman alone and unattended in a cell at New Plymouth District Court for almost six hours.
The woman had appeared in New Plymouth District Court for a driving-related offence. After her hearing, she was required to sign a new bail bond and was taken into Police custody, awaiting the completion of paperwork by court staff.
The Authority found that one of the officers did not follow proper procedure before leaving the court cells, which led to the woman being unlawfully and arbitrarily detained. While the Authority was satisfied that this incident was the result of an inadvertent human error, it also found that Police custody staff were not generally following Police policy and procedure for prisoners being received at the New Plymouth District Court cells.
The Authority determined that, given the limited space and personnel at many courts, it is common practice for those summoned to appear in court to be placed in Police custody following hearings, awaiting bail documentation. Given that court staff generally complete this process promptly, the Authority considers that it is both impractical and unnecessary for individuals, who have attended Court of their own accord and are typically compliant, to be subject to exactly the same receiving and evaluation process as detainees who have been remanded in custody to await trial or sentencing.
Authority Chair, Judge Doherty, formally recommended that the Commissioner of Police review policy relating to prisoners being held in court cells awaiting bail documentation, with a view to ensuring that:
• wherever practicable, such individuals should await their paperwork in a bail room rather than be taken into Police custody; and,
• where this is not practicable and people are detained in Police custody, the required steps set out in the current policy are amended to reflect the practicalities of the court environment.