A woman was left unattended for six hours in a New Plymouth District Court cell due to police error, a report has found.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has recommended a raft of changes after it found not only did the police officer involved not follow "proper procedure", but that staff were not generally following police policy.
The IPCA investigated an incident on December 6 last year, when police custody staff left a woman alone and unattended in a cell at New Plymouth District Court for almost six hours.
The woman had appeared in New Plymouth District Court for a driving-related offence.
After her hearing, she was required to sign a new bail bond and was taken into police custody, awaiting the completion of paperwork by court staff.
The IPCA found one of the officers did not follow proper procedure before leaving the court cells, which led to the woman being unlawfully and arbitrarily detained.
Court adjourned for the day and the woman was left unattended for almost six hours.
The IPCA was satisfied the incident was the result of an "inadvertent human error", however it also found police custody staff were not generally following police policy and procedure for prisoners being received at the New Plymouth District Court cells.
The IPCA determined that given the limited space and personnel at many courts, it was common practice for those summoned to appear in court to be placed in police custody following hearings, awaiting bail documentation.
As court staff generally completed the process promptly, the IPCA considered it both "impractical and unnecessary" for individuals who have attended court of their own accord and are typically compliant to be subject to exactly the same receiving and evaluation process as detainees who have been remanded in custody to await trial or sentencing.
IPCA chair Judge Doherty recommended the commissioner of police review policy relating to prisoners being held in court cells awaiting bail documentation.
This review should ensure wherever practicable such individuals should await their paperwork in a bail room rather than be taken into police custody; and, where this is not practicable and people are detained in police custody, it should reflect the practicalities of the court environment.
Taranaki Area Commander Inspector Keith Borrell said police accepted the IPCA findings and had made changes to policy to reflect the IPCA recommendations.
"The officer involved acknowledged the mistake and police sent a written apology to the woman," Borrell said
"While the officer's actions were accidental, an employment investigation was undertaken in relation to her actions.
"This incident should not have occurred and changes have been made as a result."