Media organizations regularly claim that the U.S. is the only country in the world (along with the Philippines) to permit bail bonds. However, this claim is false. While other countries do not call them “bail bonds” or “surety bonds,” their systems work in a surprisingly similar way.
Bail Bonds In The UK
In the UK (the country from which most U.S. bail laws derive), defendants awaiting trial can be admitted to bail after being charged. This means that they are released from jail until their first court hearing.
UK authorities place some restrictions on defendants, such as giving their passports to law enforcement and reporting to police stations several times per week, but the system is generally the same. The only people who can’t get bail are those:
- Charged with armed robbery
- Convicted of a serious crime in the past
- Who were found guilty of breaking bail terms in the past
- Who the court believes won’t show up at their court date
- Who might commit additional crimes while on bail
As in the U.S., UK courts may ask for sureties that a person won’t skip bail. Here, a surety offers a sum of money on the defendant’s behalf which they must forfeit if they don’t show up to their trial date.
Bail In Japan
Bail laws in Japan are, again, similar to those in the U.S. According to the government, “bail shall be granted unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as the risk of concealing or destroying evidence of a crime.”
In November 2018, Japanese prosecutors granted bail for Nissan’s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn at $14 million. After being arrested a second time, Ghosn fled the country to be with his wife in Lebanon. This high-profile case exposed the western world to the workings of the Japanese bail system. As with the U.S., surety bonds are a part of the process and cash bail is acceptable (though granted more rarely).
Bail Laws In Other Countries
While only the U.S. and the Philippines might use the term “bail bonds” (an old western term), many other countries have cash bail – and not just those mentioned above. In Canada, for instance, cash bail is available, though it is less common than it is in the United States.
The difference here is primarily in how the legal systems in different countries work and apply bail rules. The Philippines derives its system from the U.S. protection that came after WWII. Other countries evolved similar systems independently.
Around the world, bail bonds are usually called “surety bonds.” (The term “surety bond” is also a legal term in the U.S.).
A classic cash bond is similar to a contract between two parties: the principal and the obligee. The principal is the person issuing the bond (often companies when they want to borrow money). The obligee is the entity requiring the bond (usually the person lending to them).
By contrast, a surety bond is a contractual agreement between three parties:
- The principal
- The surety
- The obligee
For bail-related surety bonds, the obligee is the court. They require a bond to ensure that the defendant shows up on the right date. The principal is the defendant – the person issuing the bond, and the surety is the party who agrees to guarantee the bond for the obligee.
In other countries around the world, bail bondsman services are unavailable. Hence, when law enforcement officials charge a person with a crime, they have to cobble together the money for bail from friends, family, and anyone else willing to support them.
Sureties don’t go away abroad, but the way courts permit is different. And, because of this, securing release from detention is significantly more challenging overseas than in the U.S.
Suppose, for instance, police charge a Japanese citizen with a crime, setting the court date six months hence with judicial officials setting a bail amount of $1 million equivalent in yen.
Under the Japanese system, defendants must either pay the cash directly or find a sponsor willing to post bail for them. Unlike in the U.S. or the Philippines, there is no for-profit system at play. Defendants have to rely on the kindness of others.
In the UK, courts actually view the for-profit payment of bail as an obstruction to justice rather than a way to secure release. Because of this, many defendants have to remain in detention for several weeks before statutory release.
Critics of surety bonds complain that defendants have to pay a non-refundable fee to bail bondsmen. They argue that this is unfair compared to fully refundable bail options in other countries and that it discriminates against the poor who cannot afford such services.
However, this argument doesn’t work. First, courts set bail amounts based on the perceived risk of the defendant and the severity of the crime they commit. They do not take their personal financial circumstances into consideration. As such, the legal system is de facto regressive.
Second, bail bond agents charge fees for services that defendants need in response to court largesse. If bail amounts were affordable, the majority of people could pay cash deposits and secure release independently. However, as it stands in most states, this is not the case.
Lastly, bail bondsmen don’t require defendants to pay non-refundable fees upfront. Like other industries, they also offer credit agreements where arrestees pay them back in installments when they can. Bail bonds are a critical mechanism that upholds the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In other countries, lack of services means that defendants often appear “guilty as charged.”
In summary, the bail bond system works exceptionally well in the U.S. Other countries also use cash bonds, but they prevent commercial entities from offering for-profit services. Because of this, defendants have limited options and must secure full cash amounts for their release.