Sure thing

When Julian Assange was released on bail by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court last year he was released on a £240,000 surety, with a £200,000 deposit lodged. (His bail was later extended and varied, and the surety amount reduced, as he pursued avenues of appeal through the High and Supreme Courts).

Now that Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, the Chief Magistrate has ordered the promisors to part with some cash. Judge Riddle’s decision from last week can be found here, tracing the history of the matter. His Honour exercised his discretion in requiring less than half of the original surety money to be forfeited. I’d thought that some celebrity supporters had fronted the money, but I don’t recognise any of the names referred to in the judgment. It isn’t totally clear what submissions were made on their behalf, but it seems like the sureties wanted to explain their position to the Court, at least.

Here, under s 7(4) of our Crown Proceedings Act 1958 (Vic.), a surety can apply to the court to vary or rescind an order that money be paid. This provision most notably came in for consideration when Tony Mokbel’s sister-in-law unsuccessfully sought to resist the forfeiture of her property in Mokbel v DPP (Vic) & DPP (Cth) [2006] VSC 487 and Mokbel v DPP (Vic) & DPP (C’th) [2007] VSCA 195.

If the British system is anything like ours, Assange won’t be able to pay his supporters back the money later, and everyone would be in strife if he’d agreed to do so.

Section 31 of the Bail Act 1977 says,

31. Indemnifying surety

(1) Any person who indemnifies another person or who agrees with another person to indemnify that other person against any liability which that other person may incur as a surety to secure the attendance in answer to bail and the surrender to custody of a person accused or convicted of or under arrest for an offence he and that other person shall be guilty of an offence.

Penalty: 15 penalty units or imprisonment for three months.

(2) An offence is committed against subsection (1) whether the agreement is made before or after the person to be indemnified becomes a surety and whether or not he becomes a surety and whether the agreement contemplates compensation in money or money’s worth.

Incidentally, while looking at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court I happened across a picture of its predecessor, the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. This building, which was built in 1974 and closed its doors for the last time in September of last year, is so fantastically ugly that it’s got me thinking about a companion piece to my 2011 post about court buildings. The updated one would feature nothing but court buildings which should be immediately torn down and replaced with something else.

If anyone knows of a likely contender, let me know.

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