In New Zealand we have no statutory right of appeal against a decision of a court registrar concerning bail. Registrars may determine what, if any, conditions are to be imposed in a grant of bail, pursuant to s 27(2) of the Bail Act 2000. The relevant appeal provision, s 41, does not refer to appeals against decisions of registrars.
I have always thought that a bit strange. True, registrars can only deal with bail if the prosecutor consents, but what sort of safeguard against onerous bail conditions is that?
And in the real world, a defendant may well decide to sign an onerous bond and get out of court as soon as possible, instead of waiting to have the registrar’s decision challenged. I have heard defendants say, “Nah, fuggit, I’m out of here.”
I asked the Minister of Justice in 2012 whether there should be clarification of this in the Act. After seeking the advice of “officials” she replied to the effect that no action was considered necessary.
The inference is that registrars should only impose bail conditions with the agreement of the defendant - although in the aforementioned reality freedom of choice is somewhat limited. And what if a registrar decided to impose a condition over the objection of the defendant?
Matters such as these have received some clarification in a recent case that is primarily concerned with the inherent power of the judges of the District Court to supervise and direct registrars in the conduct of judicial business: District Court at Christchurch v McDonald  NZCA 353 at :
“… Parliament’s expectation was that while registrars would assist judges by determining some bail applications, that undertaking would remain subject to usual judicial oversight and supervision.”
Clearly, Parliament failed to put its intention into statutory words, presumably having confidence that we would play the game and guess at this.
Rights of appeal are statutory, and it is most unlikely that anyone would have thought to have resort to submitting that a judge of the District Court has inherent power to hear appeals. Indeed, the position alluded to in McDonald, which was really all about the power of a judge of the Family Court (a division of the District Court) to remove bail decisions from registrars, seems to be that the Chief Judge of the District Court would issue a direction that if a defendant objected to a proposed bail condition the registrar would, instead of making any decision, refer the issue to a judge.
This would avoid the suggestion of any appeal or a review. Indeed, review would be inappropriate because it would assume a degree of discretion exercised by the registrar and the judge would only intervene if that discretion had been exercised unreasonably. Far better for the judge to approach the question of bail de novo.
To ensure the point is not buried in the stack of judgments, a practice direction should be published so that, in the event that a registrar may be unaware of the proper practice, the procedure could be pointed out to that person.
Bail conditions that a defendant may think are onerous are usually imposed to help the defendant avoid getting into further trouble. People for whom that is a rather subtle point would be assisted if it were made by a judge rather than a registrar. McDonald speaks of judges, not mentioning the other judicial officers of the District Court: Justices of the Peace and Community Magistrates. Putting disputed bail matters before judges would be the most efficient course, because judges hear appeals from determinations of the other judicial officers, so the issue will end up with a judge anyway.