A spate of suspected suicides among defendants awaiting court proceedings has rocked the Manawatu town of Feilding.

Four residents are believed to have killed themselves while awaiting trial or sentencing in the past three months.

It comes as official figures show that the number of defendants awaiting trial or sentencing who commit suicide has more than doubled in two years. Statistics released by the chief coroner's office found 27 people in that situation killed themselves the past year.

Feilding is still reeling from three separate tragedies in a month. Farmer Scott Guy was shot dead in his driveway, a mid-air collision killed flight instructor Jess Neeson and her student Patricia Smallman and Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed in action in Afghanistan.

The recent suicides include a Feilding man and woman who died suddenly on May 15. They had been facing charges of kidnapping and beating a 27-year-old Feilding man.

The woman, who worked at an animal shelter, arranged to have a number of animals she cared for destroyed before her death.

Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand director Merryn Statham said that clogged court services could heap more stress on people facing charges.

She said: "Where remand time is extended that can often be due to clogged court processes and the availability of legal staff to process those prisoners.

"That can certainly contribute to a high degree of stress, uncertainty, and lack of control for prisoners who already have high risk factors.

"Where we see suicidal behaviours in institutions, such as prisons and schools, that can be highly contagious."

Corrections Ministry acting assistant regional manager Chris Burns said the number of prisoners committing suicide was decreasing.

He said: "Prisoners determined to harm themselves will and do use anything they can to do so ... It is incredibly difficult to stop someone who is determined to do harm to themselves. Suicide in prison is a major issue for correctional."

He said corrections officers had saved the lives of 190 prisoners who had attempted suicide.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean, who released extensive figures on the number of suicides this week, indicated he would like to see strict reporting laws around suicide loosened.

He said: "The reality is that sadly it's a diminishing number of people who get their information from the newspapers, the TV or radio news. Younger people get all of their information from Twitter, blogs, and text messages and this is often misinformed.

"I'm sympathetic to the view that we do have responsible media and by and large you can trust them and we would have to do that to allow them more information, without getting into the graphic details of it."

Around 540 people commit suicide each year.