The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


When there are concerns about someone's suitability for unconditional bail the next step, before a remand in custody, is to impose bail conditions. These might be a curfew, a residence condition or one not to contact a witness or victim, and so on. Sometimes, usually in serious cases, the fear that the defendant might abscond is met by a surety or a security. A security is simply a cash deposit that stands to be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear. More usually we are offered a surety from a friend or relative.

When you offer yourself as a surety (and having seen the system I am not sure that I would, other than for my immediate family) you have to come to court with ID and with proof of your financial position. You are then put on oath and taken through a probing questionnaire about your personal affairs, your job, whether you have a criminal record, how well you know the defendant, and so on. Your financial documents will be examined and you may be questioned about them. You are solemnly warned that if the defendant does abscond, and you are ordered to pay but do not, you yourself might be imprisoned. You are then reminded about the law of perjury, and told that if you wish to withdraw as surety you have to bring the defendant to court to do so. You then sign the form, and it is countersigned by the presiding magistrate or judge.

We have to be cautious about evidence of cash assets. I have seen instances of accounts that show substantial cash deposits made just a few days before the proceedings, which might be a sign of organised criminals prepared effectively to buy their man's freedom. We might send people along the High Street to print off a temporary statement from the hole-in-the-wall machine. On one occasion counsel proudly handed up two slips each bearing a sum around £2,500, and was nonplussed when I pointed out the small minus sign in front of each figure.

I have seen a man who imprudently stood surety to a man he hardly knew and who lost his house and business as a result - the system depends on the court enforcing sureties when they go wrong. That was the time that I decided that I wouldn't even stand surety for my granny.