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What does “released on bail” mean?

Where bail is granted to a person involved in a criminal investigation or charge, they are allowed to remain out in the public while they are either awaiting further investigations or court appearance, as opposed to being detained in custody. Bail is a set of restrictions that are imposed on a person suspected or charged with a criminal offence to ensure that they comply with the court process. The purpose of bail is to ensure that the individual either complies with certain conditions (for example, turning up at the next court date) or refrains from certain actions (such as contacting a witness in the case).  

When can a person be released on bail? 

Both the police as well as the courts can grant bail. This can happen at various stages in a criminal case. 

Before charge 

If the police have not charged a suspect but are still investigating a possible crime, they have the ability to release them on bail if this is deemed necessary and proportionate. Putting a suspect on pre-charge bail means that they are obliged to return to the police station at a set date and time. If they fail to do so they can then be arrested.  

Pre-charge bail is used in the following situations: 

  • Where there is not sufficient evidence to charge the suspect with an offence and the police need to do further investigations.  

  • Where there is sufficient evidence to charge but the matter has been referred to the CPS for a charging decision. 

There is a 28-day time limit (this can be extended in some situations) on pre-charge bail, after which the police either have to charge or release.  

Pre-charge bail will generally be refused if the suspect fails to give their name or address or supplies this information but the police suspect that it is false.  

After charge 

Where a suspect is charged with an offence, they will either be remanded in custody until the next court session or they will be released on bail (with or without conditions).  

Where the person is released on bail they will be told the date and time that they need to attend the magistrates court hearing. Conditions can be imposed where necessary and if these are breached, the police can arrest the defendant. 

Court bail 

Where the defendant is brought before the court in custody, the issue of bail needs to be kept under review for the duration of the case. Generally, the defendant has the right to bail and can apply at the first court hearing, unless certain serious offences such as: 

  • Murder 

  • Manslaughter and serious sexual offences 

  • Class A drug users in designated areas 

The court will not grant bail where there are concerns about the conduct of the defendant if bail is granted. Bail will be refused where there are substantial grounds to believe that, if released on bail, the defendant would: 

  • Fail to appear at the police station or court as requested 

  • Commit a further offence 

  • Interfere with witnesses  

Conditional bail 

Bail conditions should only be imposed in cases where it is necessary to address any risks of imposing unconditional bail. It must be shown that the conditions are necessary, reasonable, proportionate and capable of being enforced.  

There is a presumption that all defendants and suspects have a right to unconditional bail. Where there are concerns about what the defendant may do (or not do) if released without conditions, the conditions can be attached including: 

  • Reporting to a police station 

  • Surrendering their passport  

  • Electronic tagging (sometimes with monitoring) 

  • Sureties (a guarantee of payment to the court by someone if the defendant does not attend the court hearing) 

  • Residence at a specified address 

  • Curfew 

  • Restrictions from entering a certain area 

  • Restrictions on contacting specified persons (including victims and witnesses) 

The court will consider various issues when deciding whether or not a defendant should be granted bail, for example: 

  • The seriousness of the offence that the defendant is charged with 

  • The strength of the evidence against the defendant 

  • The character of the defendant and their previous criminal record (have they been convicted of a serious offence in the past), as well as who they associate with and if they have ties to their community 

  • If the defendant has breached bail conditions or failed to attend court in the past 

  • If there is a fear of further offences being committed by the defendant whilst on bail 

The defendant can apply to the magistrates court to vary bail conditions and a court date will be fixed for the court to consider this application.  

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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