A defendant can be subject to bail imposed by police or the courts throughout the period of an investigation and court proceedings. Anyone released on bail has a duty to appear in court (surrender) in the future. If they fail to turn up to their court date, they have committed an offence.

What is the penalty for failing to surrender to bail?

Failure to surrender to bail is a serious offence. The maximum sentence is 12 months’ custody.

The court will calculate the sentence by assessing the offender’s culpability and the level of harm or potential harm caused by their failure to surrender.

Culpability is an assessment of how blameworthy the person was for the breach. The offender would be more culpable if they deliberately attempted to evade or delay justice, and less culpable if they made some attempt to surrender to bail.

The level of harm caused depends on what kind of court the person was supposed to be surrendering to, and the delay and level of disruption that was caused by their failure to surrender. Failure to attend a Crown Court hearing is more serious than failing to attend a hearing in a magistrates’ court. This is because the kind of offences dealt with in the Crown Court are likely to be more serious. Disruption can involve preventing cases being dealt with, wasting court time and causing distress to victims or witnesses.

Find out more about how sentences for failing to surrender to bail are worked out in the sentencing guideline and the different types of sentence the courts can impose.

Useful information


Do criminals who aren’t jailed just walk free from court?
The phrase “walk free from court” often appears in media reports about situations where someone is found guilty but is not sent to prison. The fact is that these offenders will face many restrictions on their freedom. The only time someone could genuinely “walk free” from court is when they are either acquitted – that is, when they are found not guilty – or when they receive an unconditional discharge.

If they are given a community sentence, they have to comply with up to 12 restrictions on them such as doing unpaid work for up to 300 hours, keeping to a curfew, a ban from going to particular places or doing certain activities or supervision by the Probation Service. A suspended sentence, which gives an offender the chance to mend their ways, comes with similar restrictions and, if they commit another crime or don’t keep to the requirements, they can be sent to prison.

Even if offenders get a conditional discharge, if they commit another crime they could find themselves back in court to be sentenced for the new offence, and the original one.

Read more sentencing myths and find out the facts.

The information on this page is not a complete legal analysis of the offences and is not a substitute for legal advice. The law will be different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.