Key Points:

Reno Lunjevich - a "prolific burglar and drug user" - was facing more than 50 charges relating to a series of burglaries when he appeared in court.

Despite police urging the court to remand him in custody due to his "unpredictable behaviour" and habitual targeting of homes with firearms, he was freed on bail to attend a family tangi in September this year.

He disappeared and, before police eventually tracked him down, allegedly struck another 10 times, looting more homes.

Figures released yesterday reveal more than 18,000 court cases across the country are on hold because defendants have either fled while on bail or not bothered to turn up.

"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," said Simon Power, National's Justice and Corrections spokesman.

As of September 30 18,682 cases in the country's 63 district courts were on hold due to outstanding warrants. The highest figures are in Auckland where there are 3795 cases on hold, Manukau where there are 3157 and Waitakere where there are 1234.

Garth McVicar, spokesman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust, said the high figures were the result of changes to bail laws in 2001 that made it harder for judges to remand defendants on bail.

And he said it was likely the figures would be worse with a further amendment to the law, introduced in October this year, which raised the threshold from whether there was a "risk" of the defendant absconding to whether there was a "real and significant risk".

Chris Kahui - who is awaiting trial for the murders of his twin babies Chris and Cru Kahui - was the first to benefit from the new laws.

However, his bail was revoked after it emerged he had breached several conditions.

"These changes were all about reducing the prison population, but recidivist and violent offenders should not even be considered for bail" said Mr McVicar. "We should be reclaiming our streets instead of recycling our criminals."

The figures include cases before the Youth Court as well as District and High Court trials, summary offences and depositions hearings.

In Hamilton there were 1057 cases on hold and in Rotorua 542. Whangarei had 466 cases and Christchurch 912.

Police officers are also growing increasingly frustrated about the extra workload, but are reluctant to openly criticise the justice system and the courts.

Stuart Mills, Police Association vice-president, said absconding defendants had an impact on victims and witnesses as well as clogging up the system.

And it meant that while police were doing the best job they could, results would be affected as well.

"We need to make sure that people before courts turn up and that's a matter for the courts," said Mr Mills. "Obviously, you can take from that if they are absconding while on bail surely they should not be on bail."

Mr Power said there was also an "alarming log-jam" of cases, with 241 criminal jury trials outstanding in the High Court and 1437 in District Courts as of March this year.

The figures showed the justice sector was "appallingly managed" by Labour, he said.

Courts Minister Rick Barker said decisions on bail were up to judges, but given the principle that people were innocent until proven guilty a high bar was set before curtailing freedom before a trial.

Court cases on hold

Auckland 3795

Manukau 3157

Waitakere 1234

Hamilton 1057

Christchurch 912

North Shore 845

Wellington 725

Tauranga 633

Rotorua 542

Lower Hutt 495

Whangarei 466

Papakura 376

Gisborne 307

Hastings 306

Napier 285

Kaikohe 281