Police bosses have asked the Chief District Court Judge to stop putting people on electronically monitored bail because they are in danger of blowing their budget by almost $1 million - and cannot cope with the number already on bail.
A memo obtained by the Herald reveals Assistant Commissioner Operations Nick Perry approached Judge Jan-Marie Doogue last month to ask for "support" in capping the number of defendants on e-bail at 250.
The approach came after the 2012/13 bill for e-bail was estimated to exceed $3.9 million, surpassing the budget of $3.2 million.
The memo said police were worried they could not cope with 280 people on e-bail at Christmas - let alone the expected increase over the holiday period. "Any increases to current workload activity levels, particularly to numbers of defendants on muster, will only serve to exacerbate these pressures."
It continued: "It is our view that police are not in a position going forward into 2013 to manage even current muster levels and certainly not to increase the muster."
Mr Perry then approved the cap of 250 in December and sought the support of the judiciary. The Police Prosecutions Service was told it was not to accept new applications from defence lawyers until further instruction, however Judge Doogue denied the judiciary agreed to the police plan.
"I have not agreed to any such requests, and in any event could not direct judges how to exercise their individual discretion in respect of such applications," she said.
"Judges will continue to deal with individual applications as and when they are made."
Mr Perry said the cap was something police had already been considering, but confirmed "the finite nature of police resources" was a factor.
Other reasons were the success of the scheme - the number on e-bail has risen to 280 since 2006 - and a bill going through Parliament codifying the rules around e-bail.
Mr Perry believed public safety would be maintained if the proposal went ahead. "The public can be reassured that police will continue to advocate appropriate bail conditions to minimise risk to public safety."
Yesterday, he called the approach to the judiciary "prudent".
"We notified the Chief District Judge but really there's no way frankly we can tell judges what to do ... but [we] notified [them] of the situation we were in so they were aware of it if issues did arise."
The move was effectively a submission. "It's up to them really if they want to recognise that or not."
Mr Perry said police and Corrections were considering merging their e-bail operations which hopefully would result in "economies of scale".
The Ministry of Justice says that each year, about 78,000 people spend time on bail.
Electronically monitored bail
• Provides the courts with an option to bail remand prisoners on electric monitoring after they applied to the court.
• It is an alternative to a defendant who has either had bail refused or has been remanded in custody because bail hasn't been sought.
• It works similarly to home detention and allows defendants to live at home, wearing an electronic anklet as part of their bail conditions.
• The anklet sends a signal to a control centre which monitors them 24 hours a day. If they leave the designated area an alarm goes off and police are called.
• Since 2006-07 there have been reports of 255 people absconding out of 1839 on electronic monitoring.