The court will typically order a “surety bail” where the charges against an accused are particularly serious or where financial consequences are necessary to minimize the risk that an accused will not comply with the terms of his release.
A surety bail is imposed by way of a “recognizance”, a legal document the accused signs to acknowledge the terms of release ordered by the court and the debt owed to “Her Majesty the Queen” if he fails to abide by the terms of release. This potential debt is commonly referred to as bail or the bail amount.
The terms of release are set out in the body of the document, and the document is signed by the accused in the presence of a judicial officer who confirms that the accused understands what he is signing. The term “recognizance” derives from the verb “to recognize”, which is what an accused does by signing a recognizance; he recognizes the terms of his release and the consequences of breaching them.
For surety bail, a surety is required to guarantee the sum of money set out in the recognizance. A surety can be anyone who meets the financial requirements, i.e., satisfies the court that he or she can pay the bail amount if called upon to do so, and has the ability to supervise the accused while the accused is out of custody. A surety can be the accused’s spouse, parent, child, sibling, relative or friend.
The higher the level of risk that the accused poses for non-compliance with terms of release, the higher the sum of money or bail and more likely a surety will be required. Similarly, the more serious the charge against the accused, the higher the sum of money or bail and more likely a surety will be required.
In British Columbia, a surety must provide proof of his or her ability to pay the amount of the recognizance by providing information about his income and assets. Where the amount of the recognizance is $1,000 or more, a surety must provide proof of ownership of real property with equity that exceeds the amount of the recognizance or bail.
Typically, the surety is required to produce the following documentation to satisfy the court as to his financial qualification to act as surety:
- State of Title Certificate from the Land Title Office confirming the surety’s ownership of the real estate offered as evidence of the surety’s wealth
- Notice of Assessment from the BC Assessment Authority for the current year as proof of the value of the property
- Mortgage Statement from lenders indicating the amount secured by any mortgage on the property
- Proof of payment of current property taxes
Being a surety is not a trivial matter. It entails both a personal and financial commitment. The personal commitment is to supervise an accused person while he or she is out on bail to help ensure that the accused complies with his terms of release and attends court when required. The financial commitment is liability to the government for the amount of the bail in the event the accused breaches the terms of his release.
Neither should be taken lightly.