Before looking at bail and how it is used in the criminal prosecution system in Ireland, lets first take a look at what bail is.
Bail is the releasing of a person from custody in return for which the accused person undertakes to pay a sum of money to the court if he does not appear at the next court sitting to which he is remanded.
When bail is granted to the accused person he enters into a recognisance (guarantee)that he will show up in court at the appointed date and will abide by any terms and conditions which might be part of his bail bond.
An application for bail can be made at the District Court sitting to which he is returned if he has not been released on station bail.
The seminal authorities in Ireland in relation to access to bail are The Bail Act, 1997 and O’Callaghan’s case.
There are certain offenses such as murder for which bail can only be obtained in the High Court.
Bail And Criminal Prosecution In Ireland
Station Bail After Being Arrested
If you are charged with a criminal offense in a Garda station after being arrested you may be eligible to be released on station bail.
After being given the charge sheet which sets out the offences for which you are being charged you will be released on “station bail” provide there are not outstanding warrants out for your arrest.
You will be entering a guarantee on your behalf, called a recognisance, to appear at the next sitting of the District Court; if you don’t appear this is a criminal offence which can attract a prison sentence of up to 12 months and the Judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
Serious offences will render you ineligible for station bail and you will have to apply to the High Court with a bail application for such offences as murder.
If you are not given station bail then you can apply at the District Court at which you next appear for release on bail and the Judge is obliged to grant you bail provided you are not charged with a section 29 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967 offence such as murder and new organized crime offences from the Criminal Justice Act, 2007 such as participation in organized crime, conspiracy to commit a serious offence and other organized crime related offences.
Applying to the High Court for bail
Since the bail referendum in Ireland in 1996 the High Court can refuse your application for bail if it is of the view that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a further serious offence.
The Bail Act of 1997 sets out the criteria the court must consider when considering a bail application and in coming to their decision as to the likelihood of the commission of a further serious offence.
The guiding criteria include
- The seriousness of the offence with which you are charged
- The evidence in support of the charge
- Any previous convictions
- Whether you are addicted to a controlled drug.
The Bail Act of 1997 lists the offences that are considered to be “serious offences” and this is a large list ranging from shoplifting offences to road traffic offences to murder and the offence must be punishable by a prison sentence of at least 5 years.
The People v O’Callaghan is a Supreme Court decision in 1966 which still applies today and this case set out a number of considerations which a court should consider when deciding whether an accused should be granted bail.
All of these considerations are to assist in assessing the likelihood of the accused person trying to evade justice and consequently being refused bail.
O’Callaghan’s case recognized the presumption of innocence of the accused and that the primary purpose of granting bail is to secure the attendance of the accused to meet the charges.
It is up to the prosecution to show that the accused is likely to attempt to evade justice if granted bail.
The Bail Act 1997
One of the key sections of the Bail Act 1997 is section 2 which allows the refusal of bail where a person is charged with a serious offence and where the court considers it necessary to refuse bail in order to prevent the commission of a serious offence by the accused if granted bail. (A serious offence is an offence which is punishable by at least 5 years imprisonment).
Once bail is granted any terms and conditions are set out in a recognisance (which must be signed by the accused person) which is an acknowledgement by the accused of the terms and conditions and of his obligation to show up in court at the next appointed date.