From the police station

If their investigation is continuing, the police can bail you without charge to return to the police station at a fixed time and date. Failure to do so could be a separate offence.

Once charged, the police must release you on bail unless the custody officer reasonably believes that:

  • There is doubt about your name or address; or
  • Detention is necessary to protect you or somebody else; or
  • You will fail to attend court or will interfere with witnesses or the administration of justice.
Like the courts, the police are now able to attach conditions to your bail, such as living at a fixed address, reporting to a local police station, obeying a curfew, avoiding named people or places, or providing a financial guarantee for your attendance at court.

If you fail to attend court without reasonable excuse when on bail, you commit a separate offence under the Bail Act 1976. If you break any of the conditions of your bail, you can be arrested and brought in custody to the next sitting of the local Magistrates' Court, who may then take away your bail.

From the court

If on police bail, you can apply to the Magistrates' Court to vary the conditions. If the police have kept you in custody they must produce you at the next sitting of the local Magistrates' Court, which then takes any decisions about bail if your case continues after the first hearing.

The court can grant bail with or without conditions, or remand you in custody.

Before conviction you have a right to be granted bail unless certain exceptions apply. The most significant of these are where the court finds that there are substantial grounds for believing you may do one or more of the following:

  • Fail to attend court.
  • Commit further offences.
  • Interfere with witnesses.
The factors the court will consider in deciding this include: the seriousness of the charge; the strength of the evidence; your own background and community ties; any previous convictions you have, particularly for failing to attend court in the past; whether you are already on police or court bail for other matters and if you are still subject to any court sentence.

If the court has concerns on these grounds it can attach conditions to your bail including those already mentioned; residence at a bail hostel; payment of a cash security into court; or providing a surety.

A surety is someone who knows you personally and offers the court a sum of money to guarantee you will attend when required. They do not have to pay the money into court but have to show that they have it available. If you then do not turn up at court on time they may have to pay the money or even go to prison themselves if unable to do so. Your surety will have to attend the court or police station in person to sign as surety. You will not be released from custody yourself until they have done so. The surety should not have a criminal record, should be resident in the U.K. and should provide proof that they have the necessary funds e.g. a bank statement or building society book. It is an offence to lend someone money to enable them to stand surety.

If you are charged with an offence which does not carry a possible sentence of imprisonment, the court can normally only refuse bail if you have failed to attend in the past and they believe you would do so again.

Where conditions are attached to your bail, or bail is refused, the court must state its reasons for doing so. In cases of rape or homicide the court must also state reasons if it decides to grant bail.

If you are refused bail at your first hearing you can apply again at the second hearing of your case or if there is a change in your circumstances relating to bail. You can also appeal to a Crown Court judge, sitting in chambers, against the refusal of bail by the magistrates, even if your case can only be heard in the Magistrates' Court.

In serious cases the prosecution can appeal to the Crown Court judge against the granting of bail by the magistrates, although this is unusual. To do so they must give you notice in court straight away and confirm this in writing in two hours as you will be kept in custody in the meantime. The appeal must be heard in the Crown Court within two working days.

There is also a process of appeal against conditions of bail to a judge of the Crown Court sitting in chambers, although this is less commonly used.

If you are under 17 when bail is refused you will not be remanded straight to custody but will be accommodated by the local authority which may place you with your family, in a children's home, or apply to the court to place you in secure accommodation in certain circumstances.

If you are refused bail and are remanded in custody, custody time limits will apply to your case. Once the custody time limit has expired the court must release you on bail unless the prosecution has obtained an extension from the court beforehand. The limits are:

  • 56 days for Magistrates’ Court trial
  • 70 days for committal to the Crown Court
  • 112 days from committal to Crown Court trial.
To extend these limits, the prosecution has to justify the time they are taking to bring your case to trial.
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