What can I do while I’m on bail?

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Created on November 25, 2019

If you have been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence,

the police may place you on bail while they continue with their investigation.  Or, if you have already been charged with an offence, you might be bailed to attend the Magistrates’ Court.  In the vast majority of cases already before the courts, defendants will be subject to bail to re-attend at a later date, either for trial or sentence or some other preparatory hearing. 

As a starting point, being subject to bail merely means that you are under a duty to attend the police station or court at a specified date and time.  If you are subject to unconditional bail, that will be the only requirement placed upon you. 




What does being on Conditional Bail mean?

If the police or the court take the view that there are substantial grounds to believe that you might fail to attend on the next occasion or that you might commit a further offence, conditions may be placed on your bail.  The conditions will be designed to tackle the specific concern.  For example, if it is believed that you might fail to attend on the next occasion, conditions requiring you reside at a particular address and to comply with a night-time curfew might be imposed.  For similar reasons, conditions  requiring you to report to a local police station on a regular basis or to surrender your passport to the police, might be considered.  If there is a concern that you might try to contact a witness in the case, conditions prohibiting you from contacting that person or from attending their home address or place of work will be imposed. 

Can I go on holiday whilst on bail?

Being on bail in itself will not prevent you from going on holiday or from leaving the country provided you are able to attend the police station or court when required to do so.  However, it is the conditions of bail which might prevent such travel.  A condition to live and sleep each night at a specified address will prohibit an overnight stay elsewhere. 

Can I make an application to vary or change my conditions of bail?

If, whilst subject to bail with conditions, you wish to take a holiday or to move address, an application can be made to have your conditions varied.  Equally, you may want to have your conditions changed or relaxed so that you don’t have to report to the police station as often or so the curfew hours are less strict. 


If you are subject to police bail, then the application should be submitted to the police in the first instance.  There is a right of appeal to the Magistrates’ Court.  Where the conditions have been imposed by the court, the application to vary should be made to that court (Magistrates’ or crown).


The strength of your application will depend on an updated assessment of the risk that you are deemed to pose.  For that reason, a longer period of compliance on bail will assist your application.  While an application made the day after bail was imposed is less likely to be successful (without very good reason).    

What does a bail condition not to contact someone, directly or indirectly, mean?

Where you are subject to bail with a condition not to contact someone (usually a witness in the case), this will generally include any indirect contact with that person.  So any attempt to pass a message to that person, no matter what the subject matter, will be a breach of your bail.  Equally, if that other person attempts to contact you, it is you, not the other person, who will be at risk of a breach.  If the other person seeks to make contact with you, the obligation remains on you to walk away, refuse to engage with them, decline the call or not reply to the message.  If such attempts persist, you are best advised to inform your solicitor or to contact the investigating police officer.  That way, the other person can be warned not to make contact with you again. 


In these circumstances, contact will include phone calls, texts, emails and Facebook messages.  It will also include cards or letters posted through the letterbox. 

Do I have to pay to get bail?

No.  We are not in the USA. 

Bail, in England and Wales, does not mean that you must pay a sum of money to the police or to the court in order to be released from custody.  You have an automatic right to bail unless there are substantial grounds to believe that certain exceptions apply (see above). 

However, in some cases, where the court has significant concerns about the likelihood of you fleeing the jurisdiction, an offer to pay a Surety or a Security, may assist in persuading the court to grant you bail. 

What’s the difference between a Surety and a Security?

A Surety is an offer, made by someone who is close to you, to pay a specified sum to the court in the event that you fail to attend to answer your bail.  The court will expect to see evidence proving the veracity of the surety sum.  This will usually need to relate to monies sitting in a bank account.  The court will not accept the equity in a property that has yet to be sold, for example.  The court will also want to know how the person offering the surety will seek to ensure that you will attend when required.  For this reason, a surety is generally offered by a close family member or someone that you, as the defendant, will be living with.  The court is unlikely to accept an offer of a surety from someone living in another jurisdiction. 

The amount of surety on offer will depend on the resources of the person making the offer.  It is not possible to fix a sum based on the seriousness of the offence.  One person may have access to large sums of money, while others might have limited savings to rely on.  £1,000 will be a lot of money for some people to lose.  It won’t be a lot to others.  So the court will have to make an assessment regarding the degree of risk being taken on and balance that against the seriousness of the allegations. 

A Security is similar to a Surety except that the money is paid into court before the defendant is released from custody.  It is not an offer to pay if the defendant fails to attend.  The court holds the Security Sum and will only repay it once the defendant has attended all hearings as required.  In this way, the court is taking less risk.  However, it is generally accepted that a Security will be for a lower sum than a Surety. 

Can I be arrested for breaching bail conditions?

Yes. Although breach of bail conditions is not in itself a criminal offence.

If you are on police bail (and have not yet been charged with a criminal offence), the police may arrest you if they have reasonable grounds to believe that you have breached a condition of your bail. Once you have been arrested, the police must decide whether to:

  1. Charge you with the offence that you are under investigation for. If you are charged with an offence, the police may then remand you in custody and put you before the next available court (usually the next morning) to answer the charge.
  2. Release you without charge on bail with the same conditions as before. The police have no power to vary or add bail conditions under these circumstances.

If you have been charged with an offence, the police can arrest you if they have reasonable grounds to believe that you may breach, or have breached, your bail conditions. You must then be brought before the court as soon as possible (this must be within 24 hours) for the court to determine whether to release you on bail (with the same or different bail conditions) or whether to remand you into custody to await the conclusion of your case.

What happens if I fail to attend court?

Failure to attend court without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence under the Bail Act. If you do not attend court when you are supposed to, it is likely that a warrant will be issued for your arrest and, when apprehended, you will be put before the next available court (usually the next morning). The court will determine whether to remand you in custody to await the conclusion of your case, or to release you on bail, with or without conditions.

If you have a reasonable excuse for not attending court, you remain under a duty to surrender to the court as soon as reasonably practicable. So, if for example, you cannot attend court due to an emergency medical appointment, you should attend court as soon as you are fit to do so thereafter. The court may want to see evidence relating to your reason for not attending court.

If you need further advice in relation to any of the issues above,

please contact Old Bailey Solicitors on 0207 8464 999 or email us at [email protected]

Rod Hayler

Rod Hayler

Rod has specialised in criminal defence work since 1998. He is a trial advocate of 17 years’ experience and, as a Higher Courts Advocate, he represents clients in Crown Courts and in the Court of Appeal.

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