More than 633 court cases in Tauranga are on hold because defendants have taken off while on bail or failed to show up.
The figure has alarmed the spokesman for the Tauranga branch of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, who today warned the court system could be on the verge of collapse. He called on the Government to provide Tauranga District Court with more resources.
Ken Evans said the number of cases on hold was "unbelievable" and the Tauranga court was obviously "not big enough to handle the job".
"Tauranga is one of the fastest-growing places in the country so they need a bigger system to be capable of handling the volume.
"If the community pay their taxes they expect the court to handle the system. It's utter chaos. I wouldn't be surprised if it was on the verge of collapse in terms of that number.
"We require the court to handle law and order in a proper manner and it's just not happening," Mr Evans said.
"From a Sensible Sentencing point of view, we were shattered to find the court had made it easier to get bail. Bail has become a joke."
Police Association regional director Mel Ridley said "justice delayed was justice denied".
Following up on warrants was a large part of the police workload, he said.
A warrant for arrest is automatically issued once a person fails to show up at court.
"We would rather the courts applied a stricter policy on [allowing] bail but they have gone the other way, mainly to reduce the overcrowding in prisons."
The impact of a recent law change surrounding bail laws was still emerging, Mr Ridley said, but so far it was proving harder to have people remanded in custody.
"The real cost [for police] is preparing for trial or defended hearings and then having to tell witnesses it's been called off. It's hugely exasperating for police officers," he said.
Mr Ridley said when it got to the second and third court date and defendants still didn't show, often witnesses decided against taking part.
"People get very nervous going to court to give evidence. They have to take time off work. They get psyched up and you have to tell them it's been called off," Mr Ridley said.
More than 18,000 court cases are on hold nationally, figures obtained by the National Party show.
The party's justice and corrections spokesman Simon Power obtained the figures from Courts Minister Rick Barker. They show that at September 30 there were 17,860 criminal cases, 298 Youth Court cases, 387 depositions cases and 137 District Court jury trials on hold because of outstanding warrants against defendants.
Tauranga is one of 16 areas in New Zealand with the highest figures.
Backing Mr Evans' sentiments today was National MP for Bay of Plenty, Tony Ryall. He said the number of cases on hold indicated New Zealand courts were "cracking" under the weight of a huge backlog.
"We need a revamp of the court system with much more power given to police and the court to deal with these people. If criminals are out on the streets they are committing crime and it's important to see them behind bars."
As well as the number of cases on hold, there is an alarming log-jam of cases in the High Court and district courts.
At March there were 241 criminal jury trials outstanding in the High Court and 1437 in district courts. The median trial waiting time in the High Court was 290 days and in district courts 256 days.
Mr Power said the situation was set to worsen with law changes making it easier to get bail.
Labour's failure to get on top of the problem put unnecessary pressure on the justice system, he said.
"It wastes the time of the courts and of the police, and it leaves victims of crime up in the air as they wait for justice _ and all that gets in the way of ensuring justice is done in a timely manner."
In a letter to Mr Power, Courts Minister Rick Barker said a case could have more than one accused _ meaning there may be more than one outstanding warrant.
Also an accused person could be involved in more than on case.