As criminal law specialists, we are often asked to provide advice and information relating to anything from bail conditions to prison sentences. Not only do we strive to provide a strong legal representation throughout an individual’s court proceedings, we also work to translate and simplify the process, in a way that our clients are able to understand and follow.

We have noticed that a number of people are looking for clarification on the difference between being released on bail and being released on licence. These two types of release are very different from one another, and in this post, we hope to clear up any confusion between these two legal terms.


A definition of being released on bail


When an individual has been charged with or accused of a crime, they may have the opportunity to be released on bail either during the investigation, or after charge, prior to their court appearance.

After someone is charged, they will be brought in front of the magistrates for a first appearance. The magistrates will decide whether or not an individual should be released on bail or remanded in custody.

Bail is not always guaranteed and there are a number of factors that would influence the magistrates’ decision on whether or not to grant bail. The defendant’s solicitors can apply for bail for their client. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will agree or oppose bail. Both sides will present their arguments to the court as to why the defendant should or should not be released on bail. The court will decide whether they will be granted bail. If bail is refused it does not always mean that they will remain in custody until trial. There are other opportunities to apply for bail, including to a crown court judge.

If the court believes the defendant is likely to fail to appear at court, contact witnesses or commit a crime if they were released, it’s likely that bail would be refused.

Read our guide for more information on why bail may be refused


Bail conditions


For those individuals that are released on bail, there are a number of conditions they must agree to meet. These conditions can differ between cases, but many involve the defendant agreeing to the following conditions.


  • Agreeing to live at an approved address during their bail
  • Agreeing to stay within the approved address during certain times of the day (a curfew)
  • Being tagged for monitoring and surveillance
  • Agreeing to stay away from certain areas or people that are related to the case in question
  • Surrendering their passport to the police
  • Reporting to the police once a week


A family member or friend of the defendant may also be asked to enter a surety, which pledges that they will pay a charge on the defendant’s behalf, should they breach their bail conditions.


Released on bail without charge


In some cases, a suspect may be released on bail without charge, which typically occurs when the police have reached the limit for how long they can detain them in custody.

The police have 24 hours after the arrest, to either charge or release an individual.

For more serious crimes, this limit can be extended to anywhere between 36 and 96 hours. Anyone arrested under the Terrorism Act can be held without charge for as long as 14 days.

When someone is released on bail without charge, the police are entitled to bring them back to the station for further questioning and they may be required to meet some bail conditions until the outcome of the investigation.

Released on bail without charge is sometimes referred to as conditional bail or released on bail pending further enquiries. In some cases, an individual may be released under investigation, but without having to adhere to any bail conditions.


What does released on licence mean?


Being released on licence is very different to being released on bail. Bail is associated with a suspect’s release during investigation or court proceedings. Release on licence is associated with an individual who has already been convicted and has spent time in prison for a crime.

Depending on the type of sentence, the majority of prisoners will be released on licence at some point during their sentence. The period of licence runs until the end of their sentence. For people who have been given life sentences this means that their licence period will be for life. Individuals who are released on licence are required to comply with various conditions in the community. Should the individual breach any of their licence conditions they are liable to be recalled to prison until the end of their sentence.

Being released on licence allows a prisoner to serve the rest of their sentence in the community.


Licence conditions


Just as there are certain conditions to meet when you are released on bail, there are strict conditions to follow for anyone who is released on licence. Governors and Probation Officers typically work together to develop a list of approved conditions for each prisoner being released on licence. If the prisoner has been released by the Parole Board, then it is the Parole Board who decided upon the licence conditions.

These conditions can include, but are not limited to, the individual:


  • Keeping in contact with their probation officer
  • Not committing or being involved with any other crimes
  • Presenting good behaviour
  • Living at an approved address
  • Not using drugs or alcohol
  • Not travelling to certain areas, such as where the victim lives
  • Staying at the approved address during certain hours of the day (a curfew)
  • Not travelling outside of the country
  • Only taking on work that’s been pre-agreed by their probation officer


Conditions can vary from one case to another and they are explained in full to the prisoner before they are released from prison. Conditions will also be highlighted within the licence itself, copies of which will be kept by the police, the offender and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

Similarly to the consequences of breaching bail conditions, there are serious repercussions for individuals who breach any of their licence conditions. Depending on the seriousness of the breach, individuals can be recalled to prison with immediate effect. Not all breaches will result in recall to custody – warnings will be issued in respect of minor breaches. However, for serious or repeat breaches there is a significant risk of recall.


As you can see, there is a significant difference between being released on bail and being released on licence, despite the two following similar conditions and consequences. Here at Carter Moore Solicitors, we have vast experience of applying for bail for our clients, representing them at Parole Board Hearings, assisting them with release on licence and representing them if they are recalled to prison.

For more information or to enquire about legal representation, please contact our criminal and prison law specialists.