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What is bail and how does it work?

Bail is the term used when a person charged with a criminal offence is released from police custody until he next appears in court or at the police station.

Generally, in order to grant bail the police will require certain security to be given or certain conditions met.

Essentially, the principles of putting a defendant on bail are to try to ensure the defendant returns for the court hearing or to the police station whilst in the meantime the police will carry out their investigations.

Two types of bail

There are, therefore, principally two common types of bail: firstly when the defendant is bailed without charge, the police will allow the defendant to leave the police station, usually under certain restrictions or conditions, and the defendant will be given a bail return date to return to the police station.

During the period in which the defendant is on bail, the police will carry out their investigations and then decide if the defendant will be charged when he returns for the bail return date.

At this point, the defendant will either be charged or be told that no further action is to be taken.

It has, however, become more common for police offices to bail the defendant again, once he returns for the bail return date, and continue investigations. Increasingly, therefore, a defendant can be on pre-charge bail for a number of months before discovering if they are to be charged.

Secondly, a defendant may be bailed once he has been charged with an offence.

If the police are confident the defendant will show up at court and not be a threat to the public in the meantime, they will generally grant bail, subject to certain conditions, and the defendant will be bailed until the court hearing date.

When the defendant has been charged, the police have far greater powers to refuse bail. However, the defendant has not at this stage been found guilty of anything and so cannot simply be imprisoned until a court hearing unless they pose a danger to a member of the public or there is a real concern the defendant will not show up for the court hearing.

Justification for bail

The justification for the process of bail is essentially a practical one, keeping in mind the principles of justice.

In terms of pre-charge bail, it is important that the police are given time to investigate the criminal allegations and then have the opportunity to try to ensure the defendant returns to the police station so they can question them after the investigations.

In regard to post-charge bail it is clearly important that a defendant is not allowed to ‘go on the run’ and miss the court hearing or try to intimidate certain witnesses, and yet if there is little danger of this and the defendant has not yet been proven guilty, he should be released at least temporarily.

Bail system in the news

Bail has been in the news recently due to a particular case which stated that police should not be allowed to release suspects on bail for more than 96 hours.

This has caused a huge backlash, as the police require far more time than this to carry out their investigations on most occasions.

The suspects would then have to be arrested again but only if “new evidence” appeared.

It is likely that the government will try to prevent this ruling from setting a precedent, as it is widely felt that this will inhibit the police doing their job.

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