New law reform project to focus on bail and custodial remand practices in Aotearoa

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington is delighted to announce that the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation has awarded Te Herenga Waka Centre for Justice Innovation a $714,504 grant towards the 'Custodial Remand before Trial or Sentence' project.

The project is intended to assess the current law and practices relating to imprisonment before trial or sentence in Aotearoa New Zealand and to suggest recommendations for change.

In New Zealand, the percentage of the population that is on custodial remand is 43% and is predicted to increase over the next decade. While similar problems with elevated levels of custodial remand can be seen in comparable jurisdictions such as England and Wales, and Australia, the percentage of the prison population that is on custodial remand is particularly high in this country as compared to other developed nations.

The Custodial Remand before Trial or Sentence project will examine bail laws and decision-making, reasons for delays (especially delays in sentencing after conviction), and understanding the impacts of bail and custodial remand across the prison population and within families and communities.  

There is currently little independent research on the use of bail or custodial remand, why the numbers are growing, and how custodial remand is experienced by prisoners, whānau, and the communities they touch. A particular focus will be placed on the experiences of Māori, Pasifika peoples, women, young adults, and those who are neurodivergent or who have mental health needs.

Professor Yvette Tinsley, the academic co-director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, says: “We know that delays that increase time spent in custody, awaiting trial or sentence, can be detrimental for complainants, defendants, and the criminal justice system as a whole.

“Those remanded between conviction and sentence for lengthy periods receive little or no access to rehabilitative programmes that could help them and that could prevent future harm.”

The project will look to create an evidence base for discussion of legal and policy reform in order to reduce delays and other impacts associated with time spent in custody.

“The disproportionate number of Māori going through the justice system will be reflected in the number of Māori in custodial remand,” says Everard Halbert (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Whiti), the Māori co-director for the Centre.

“This impacts on the individual, their whānau, hapū, and iwi. Work is needed to assess the current law around remand, look at how it works in practice, and make recommendations.”

The project also aims to provide public education on custodial remand to enable informed debate of the issues.

Judge John Walker, the judicial co-director for the Centre, says: “The development of independent evidence-based advice on strategies to reduce the time people spend in custody awaiting sentence or trial is important. Not only for those in prison cells with little or no interventions, but for victims and complainants who are awaiting outcomes.

“The problem is multi-faceted and addressing it requires the multi-disciplinary approach that the Centre for Justice Innovation can provide.”

The project will be led by Professor Tinsley, with a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.  

The project will deliver outputs that add to current international literature on bail and remand and provide accessible information for the public. This will include an edited open access book, video vignettes hosted on the Te Herenga Waka Centre for Justice Innovation website, accessible research summary factsheets, and a symposium.  

Funding for this project is valid until October 2025.