Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of bail


  1. (criminal law) A commitment made (and possibly secured by cash or property) to secure the release of a person being held in custody and suspected of a crime, to provide some kind of guarantee that the suspect will appear to answer the charges at some later date.

Definition of bail


  • Rhymes: -eɪl
  • Homophones: bale

Etymology 1

    From the Old French verb bailler ("to deliver or hand over") and noun bail ("lease"), from Latin bajulare ("to carry or bear").


bail (plural bails)

  1. (law) Security, usually a sum of money, exchanged for the release of an arrested person as a guarantee of that person's appearance for trial.
  2. (law) Release from imprisonment on payment of such money.
  3. (law) The person providing such payment.
  4. (cricket) One of the two wooden crosspieces that rest on top of the stumps to form a wicket.
  5. A bucket or scoop used for removing water from a boat etc.
  6. (furniture) Normally curved handle suspended between sockets as a drawer pull.

Derived terms

  • jump bail
  • out on bail


to bail (third-person singular simple present bails, present participle bailing, simple past and past participle bailed)

  1. (law) To secure the release of an arrested person by providing bail.
  2. (law) To release a person under such guarantee.
  3. To set free.
  4. (law) To hand over personal property to be held temporarily by another as a bailment.
  5. (nautical) To remove water from a boat by scooping it out.

Derived terms

(to hand over property to be held by another):

(to set free):

Etymology 2

    by shortening from bail out, which comes from etymology 1


to bail (third-person singular simple present bails, present participle bailing, simple past and past participle bailed)

  1. (slang) To exit quickly.

    With his engine in flames, the pilot had no choice but to bail out.

  2. (slang): To not attend.

    I'm going to bail on this afternoon's meeting.

Etymology 3

    From Middle English beyl and Old Norse beygla, a bend, ring or hoop.


bail (plural bails)

  1. A hoop, ring or handle (especially of a kettle or bucket)
  2. A stall for a cow (or other animal) (usually tethered with a semi-circular hoop).
  3. A hinged bar as a restraint for animals, or on a typewriter.
  4. (mainly Australia & New Zealand) A frame to restrain a cow during outdoor milking.


to bail (third-person singular simple present bails, present participle bailing, simple past and past participle bailed)

  1. To secure the head of a cow during milking.

Usage notes

Some of these senses, especially the hinged bar, are also claimed via Etymology 1


  • Alphagram: abil
  • Albi
  • Bali

Further reading

Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail (and be guilty of the crime of failure to appear). In some cases bail money may be returned at the end of the trial, if all court appearances are made, no matter whether the person is found guilty or not guilty of the crime accused. If a bondsman is used and a surety bond has been obtained, the fee for that bond is the fee for the insurance policy purchased and is not refundable. In some countries granting bail is common. Even in such countries, however, bail may not be offered by some courts under some circumstances; for instance, if the accused is considered likely not to appear for trial regardless of bail. Countries without bail imprison the suspect before the trial only if deemed necessary. Legislatures may also set out certain crimes to be unbailable, such as capital crimes.

Under the current law of England and Wales, bail simply refers to the release of the accused before trial. Under Scots law, no deposit or pledge of property is asked for; bail is only granted where the court is satisfied the accused will turn up for trial.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     landed property
3.     salacious
4.     lex situs
5.     lex causae
6.     violent crime
7.     conscionable
8.     family court
9.     leasing
10.     public liability