People are often outraged when they hear of accused persons who have been released on bail. There are several factors to be considered when deciding whether someone should be let out on bail or not.
Who is allowed bail?
According to section 35(1)(f) of the Constitution everyone who is arrested for allegedly committing an offence has the right to be released from detention if the interests of justice permit, subject to reasonable conditions. This provision sets out that the law cannot take away an innocent person’s freedom arbitrarily, but recognises that in certain circumstances it may be in the interests of justice to take away or limit this freedom.
When can bail be refused?
The next question that arises is how we know when the refusal to grant bail is in the interests of justice. According to section 60(4) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), the interests of justice do not permit the release from detention of an accused where one or more of the following grounds are established:
- Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will endanger the safety of the public or any particular person or will commit certain offences;
- Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will attempt to evade trial;
- Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will attempt to influence, intimidate or conceal witnesses or destroy evidence;
- Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will undermine or jeopardise the objectives or the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, including the bail system;
- Where there is the likelihood that the release of the accused will disturb the public order or undermine the public peace or security.
In considering whether the grounds in (a) to (e) above have been established, various factors, which are set out in Sections 5 – 9 of the CPA, may be taken into consideration, these include the following:
- The degree of violence towards others implicit in the charge;
- The accused’s ties to the place at which he or she is to be tried;
- Assets and travel documents held by the accused;
- The accused’s relationship with the witnesses and the extent to which they could be influenced;
- Whether the accused supplied false information during his or her arrest or bail proceedings;
- Any previous failure to comply with bail conditions or indications that he or she will not comply with any bail condition;
- Whether the nature of the offence or the circumstances under which the offence was committed is likely to induce a sense of shock or outrage in the community; and
- Whether the shock or outrage of the community might lead to public disorder if the accused is released.
The court decides whether the accused should be let out on bail by weighing the interests of justice against the right of the accused to his or her personal freedom and in particular the prejudice he or she is likely to suffer if he or she were to be detained in custody, and must take into account, inter alia, the period for which the accused has been in custody; the probable period of detention until the end of the trial if bail is not granted; the reason for any delay in the trial and any fault on the part of the accused; any impediment to the preparation of the accused’s defence due to the detention of the accused, and the accused’s state of health.
When dealing with Schedule 5 and 6 offences the accused will be detained in custody unless the accused can show the court that it is in the interests of justice or that exceptional circumstances exist which permit his or her release, respectively. 
It’s clear that the court must weigh up many factors against each other and although we do not always understand why accused persons are released on bail, anyone would want a fair bail application if they found themselves in a similar position.
- The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
- J Chaskalson & Y De Jong – Criminal (In)Justice in South Africa, 2009:86
- The Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)