Mary Monson Solicitors have been successfully applying for bail week in week out over the last five decades in both the Magistrates Court and on serious matters in the Crown Court such as high level drugs cases, and even offences of serious violence. In 2013, we were even criticised by right wing newspaper the Daily Mail for our abilities in achieving bail for our clients, which we regard as a vindication of the hard work we do for our clients. But what is the best approach? What exactly are bail conditions, and what does a specialist bail solicitor’s preparation entail?
A Case Study from our Bail Solicitors
Any bail solicitor can claim to have expertise in different types of criminal case. We have included here a case study to give some idea of how we prepare our cases.
Importation of heroin
Our client was accused of importation of heroin with a street value of over £2,000,000. There was telephone evidence linking him to two other defendants, one of whom had been found with traces of class ‘A’ substances on his clothing.
So that our client could get bail, solicitors at our firm presented a bail application which included an offer of money to be paid to court to guarantee his attendance at hearings, and a robust attack on the credibility of “unreliable and greed-motivated” prosecution witnesses. Result: client granted bail, and subsequently received a not guilty verdict after trial.
Bail – a brief guide
Applying for and being granted bail during court proceedings is presumed to be something that a defendant is entitled to except in certain circumstances. The prosecution can only make an objection before a defendant is convicted if one or more of three conditions are met. These grounds for refusing bail are:
- That the defendant will fail to appear at court to answer his/her bail
- That the defendant will commit other offences while on bail
- That there is a risk that the defendant will interfere with prosecution witnesses
Bail objection – Failure to appear
A court will usually look at the following factors when deciding whether a defendant applying for bail is likely to not return to answer his or her bail, and whether conditions are necessary.
Previous record of not appearing to answer bail
Evidence of previous “bail offences” might show this, and this is information that will often be available on the previous convictions printout of the defendant that the court will have. If there is a bad bail attendance record, convincing explanations of what happened on those occasions and reasons why they are less significant than they seem have to be presented to the court.
Whether the defendant has ties to the community
It is often harder for immigrants to get bail when accused of imprisonable offences, because Judges are concerned that they will simply return to their native country to avoid conviction. Similarly, if a defendant’s lifestyle has an international element, ties to family and financial interests in the UK need to be shown to show that relocation to a different country is unlikely.
Seriousness of the offence, and strength of the evidence
This is not an official reason for a court to not grant bail, but for serious offences, the theory is that if the evidence is strong then so is the chance of a long prison sentence, and therefore the chance of the defendant not turning up to court is higher. This argument can be the single most problematic for any application for bail where a serious offence such as, for example, murder or armed robbery.
Bail objection – Further offences on bail
A court will be less likely to give bail where there is a recent history of offending while on bail for other offences. Again, the court will have access to this information through the defendant’s previous convictions printout (or Antecedents). The court will be less concerned if the previous offences are not of a similar or equally serious category to the offence charged. If someone is charged with robbery, but has previous offences committed while on bail for driving whilst disqualified, a good defence team will ask the court to give the previous offences less weight.
Bail objection – Interference with witnesses
The prosecution can object to bail on the grounds that keeping the defendant in prison will prevent him or her from interfering with prosecution witnesses, i.e. to stop them giving evidence in the trial, or getting them to change their evidence. This has to be argued on the facts, and is more likely to prevent bail if the defendant knows or has contact with the witnesses in question. In some cases threats and intimidation are part of the allegations, and this can make it easier for the prosecution to claim that witnesses are likely to be interfered with if the defendant is granted bail.
What are bail conditions?
Bail conditions are requirements the court gives to a defendant who is applying for bail so that he or she does not have to remain in prison before the proceedings are ended.
They allow the defence team’s bail solicitors to answer the objections the prosecution may raise to bail. Some common conditions that a court may impose include:
Curfew / residence requirement
The court can make a requirement that the defendant live at a certain address, often away from the alleged victim in the case. This can potentially be something that the court will take into account when considering what are bail conditions that would deal with the following issues:
- For the fear of the defendant absconding, the defendant is at a fixed address and easy for the police to keep tabs on.
- For the fear of the defendant interfering with witnesses, the bail address could be far away from the scene of the alleged crime.
- For the fear of further offences on bail, residence far away from the scene of the alleged crime or a curfew requirement can keep a defendant away from potentially criminal situations so further offences are less likely. Many offences of course happen at night and in licensed premises which are busy at night.
This allows the police to keep aware of the rough location of a defendant as they will have to report to a police station three or more times per week. This means that the police will be made aware quickly if they abscond.
Surety / Security
Surety and security are two important tools for a bail application for any serious offence. They are financial assurances made to the court usually by family members of the defendant, to guarantee his or her attendance at court whilst on bail.
- Security is money paid into court before the defendant is allowed out on bail.This must be paid into court in cash or other cleared funds.
- Surety is money promised to the court by third parties (e.g. family members), and only paid if the defendant does not answer his bail or turn up to court. This can be in the form of money left in the third party’s bank account, or other assets (such as equity in a house).
Documentary evidence must be provided to the court showing that this money is available, or that assets equivalent to that amount exist. This could be in the form of a bank statement or a mortgage statement accompanied by a house valuation.
A good bail application for a serious Crown Court offence (e.g. murder, drug importation etc.) will include a combination of both security (money paid) and surety (money promised). The precise amount required varies, but must be a good proportion of the assets of the person providing the asset / money. The amount offered by the bail solicitors on behalf of the surety or security provider needs to be enough that it would financially hurt the provider if the defendant did not answer his bail.
Conditions of non-contact with witnesses
This is something that should be offered wherever the alleged victim is said to have suffered in any type of attack, or where there are already allegations of any interference with witnesses, or a possibility of it. Cases which involve intimidation such as blackmail or allegations of threatening behaviour etc. are relevant here.
A condition of non-contact with prosecution witnesses is often not enough on its own to secure bail, but can be necessary as a first consideration when a defence lawyer is considering what are bail conditions which should be offered in order to achieve freedom before trial for the client.
What is the best approach in applying for bail?
Of course, it is not the case that simply because the prosecution raise an objection to bail, then the Judge will not grant bail. A good defence team’s bail solicitors will prepare a bail application which will predict that the prosecution will raise certain objections and answer them in advance by being prepared to attack them and offering the judge bail conditions. The goal is to beat the prosecution to the punch, increasing the chance of bail being granted, by wrong-footing the prosecution objections.
As with most legal work of any description, there is no substitute for a preparing thoroughly when applying for bail. Good preparation of a bail application will raise avenues of inquiry that bail solicitors should follow to firm up. For most Crown Court cases, the defendant will only have one chance to make a bail application, so every piece of background supporting evidence has to be presented to the court, and the notice of application sent to the court before the hearing must include all the supporting documentation. If an important document relating to, say, a mortgage statement for a surety is not provided at this stage, there may not be a second chance. This may delay the application. It can be sometimes be unpleasant but essential that the application waits a few days so that the defendant does not spend several months in custody after an unsuccessful bail application.
Bail is not a foregone conclusion for any serious offences, and applications must be treated with care and meticulously prepared.