New Zealand Law Society - Update from the Department of Corrections: Access to defendants in custody during COVID-19

Update from the Department of Corrections: Access to defendants in custody during COVID-19

The Department of Corrections | Ara Poutama Aotearoa currently has very tight restrictions on people coming into its prisons. Higher Stages settings under the department’s COVID-19 framework are helping to minimise COVID transmission in its prisons, as well as mitigating the operational pressures currently being experienced.

The Chief High Court Judge, Justice Thomas and Chief District Court Judge, Judge Taumaunu raised concerns that restrictions relating to in-person visits were negatively impacting counsel’s preparation required for some Jury and Judge-Alone trials.

While capacity to accommodate in-person visits remains restricted, the below process for in-person visits applies. This will be reviewed as circumstances change, including where regional changes impact the number of in-person visits that can be accommodated.

Contact Options

  • To support efforts to minimise the spread of COVID-19 inside its prisons, using phone or AVL interviews is Ara Poutama Aotearoa’s preferred option.
  • Counsel can access their clients in custody by booking either phone or AVL appointments. This can continue to be done through the current channels, with counsel contacting the relevant prison to make a booking.

To further support the preference for visits to be undertaken remotely, a share screen option is available for AVL bookings in some prisons, for counsel to ensure they are able to show their client any visual disclosure required, such as CCTV footage or stills. Counsel can bring up the images and footage on their own laptops and share their screen, allowing their client to view the images.

Counsel must advise when they are booking that they will be sharing their screen.

Should counsel face any difficulties with making a booking, they can contact the Prisoner Contact team for assistance on either or 0800 650 000.

In Person Visits

Corrections recognises that there are some circumstances where counsel may require an in-person visit prior to a trial and we have developed a process for this. As noted above, remote visits remain the preference and therefore in-person visits will be booked by exception.

Triage Criteria

Some examples where in-person visits for trial matters may be considered appropriate are:

  • If there is late, or large amounts of disclosure,
  • If the case is particularly complex
  • If comprehension or other difficulties are evident with the client which make a remote interview inappropriate, including the need for an interpreter.

If an in-person visit is required, counsel should contact the Prisoner Contact team on either method listed below with as much prior notice as practicable. It is preferred that at least one weeks’ notice is given, however shorter timeframe requests can be considered.

Contact should not be made directly with prison sites for this request. If you contact the site directly, your request will be declined, and you will be redirected to the Prisoner Contact team.


A step by step process map can be found here.

Counsel should provide the Prisoner Contact team with as much information as possible. It must include all of the following:

  • The reasons an in-person visit is required, as per the criteria listed above
  • The prisoner’s name, PRN, and prison site
  • The proposed dates for visits and the length of time the lawyer believes they will require for the visit.

The Prisoner Contact team will assess the request alongside triage criteria. If the case meets the criteria, the team will then seek the appropriate approval to make arrangements for the visit.

If approved, the team will then contact the relevant prison visitor booking area and arrange for the booking to occur. Best efforts will be made to accommodate time and date preferences; however this will not always be possible. Once the booking is made, this will be provided in writing, via email, to counsel from the Prisoner Contact team.

If declined, the Prisoner Contact team will assist counsel in making a remote booking where possible.

Counsel are strongly encouraged to support the measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and are therefore asked to undertake a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) on arrival at the prison. Counsel are advised to arrive at the prison 20 minutes before their booking for this to occur. The prison sites have RATs available for visitors to self-administer upon arrival.

A positive RAT result will likely see the visit terminated. Refusal to undertake the test will not necessarily result in the visit being terminated but may result in a further verbal screening around risk factors before the visit proceeds (such as household contact questions). If you decline a test, or operational circumstances require it, you may not be permitted entry on the day of the visit. Ara Poutama Aotearoa will do its utmost to ensure these occasions are rare.


Should counsel no longer require the booking, they should advise the Prisoner Contact team as soon as practicable.

There may be instances where the prison is no longer able to accommodate the original booking. This may relate to changes in COVID-19 protocols, safety requirements, or overall prison operational requirements.

In these instances, the prison will notify the Prisoner Contact team as soon as they are aware of the need to cancel. The team will then contact counsel to advise and will assist them to make a further booking for remote access if required, or in person at a later date.

Contact Details

The Prisoner Contact team can be contacted on either method below:


Phone:  0800 650 000

Ara Poutama Aotearoa will regularly review its processes due to the rapidly changing environment due to the pandemic.