Deciding on the bail status of a defendant is quite possibly one of the most important roles of the Magistrates' Court.
Stood before the court is a defendant who has not yet been convicted of the offence with which they are charged. There are a multitude of factors that need to be carefully considered before the court arrives at its decision to either grant bail, with or without conditions, or to remand the defendant in custody.
Anyone unfamiliar with the Magistrates' Court bail process is invited to consult our earlier whistle-stop tour of the subject. The primary legislation relating to bail is the Bail Act 1976.
Frustration 1: Bail Time Limits
As mentioned in our earlier article, under section 7 of the Act the police have 24 hours to produce before the court anyone arrested for breaching their bail conditions. It would appear that the police sometimes struggle to achieve this within the allocated time limits.
In a rural area, with a sparse distribution of courts and police custody suites, it might take several hours to transport an alleged breacher to the police station and book them into custody. In those circumstances it would be unlikely they'd appear before the court on the same day. Any difficulties or delays the following morning might mean they cannot be produced within the 24 hour time limit.
What do the police do in those circumstances? I hear you ask. Well, what they cannot do is hold on to the individual for any longer than 24 hours in the hope of bumping them into the next available court. To do that would amount to unlawful detention. The police's preferred course of action is to release the detained person with words of advice (e.g. make sure you comply with your conditions, because next time we might get you to court in time).
There is nothing more frustrating than sitting on the Bench of a remand court and being told that Mr Bloggs on the list won't now be attending because he has been released due to time or transport constraints. It is even worse if Mr Bloggs is accused of a serious or violent offence, or has committed such offences previously.
Frustration 2: Ineffective Communication
In the not too distant past I was sitting on the Bench of a Monday morning remand court. On our list was a defendant arrested for breaching his bail conditions.
The defendant had appeared at the Crown Court the previous Friday and the Judge had decided to vary his conditions of bail by removing an exclusion requirement. Unfortunately the CPS prosecutor present at the Crown Court had failed to notify the police of the change.
That weekend the man was arrested for breaching the exclusion requirement that had been removed by the Judge. He was downstairs in the cells ready to appear before us, when the prosecutor in our court got the news that he hadn't actually been in breach and should never have been arrested.
After a series of embarrassing phone calls the man was released from custody. No doubt he went straight to see a solicitor about making a claim for his unlawful detention.