Magistrates can bind over to be of good behaviour or to keep the peace, any person such as a defendant, witness or complainant. This may happen where the case involves violence or the threat of it. Sometimes the prosecution will drop such a charge if the defendant agrees to be bound over in this way. No conviction is recorded if the matter is dealt with like this because such an order is regarded as a civil matter.
A magistrate has power to take measures to prevent a likely breach of the peace and, on evidence produced before him, may require a person, on pain of six months’ imprisonment on refusal, to enter into a recognizance and find sureties either to keep the peace or to be of good behaviour. The procedure is called ‘binding over to keep the peace’ and upon complaint by any person the magistrate may hear the complainant and the defendant and their witnesses, and if he deems fit may make the order.
Binding over is a precautionary measure to be adopted, when there is reasonable ground to anticipate some present or future danger. It is not a conviction or a punishment. It should not be applied for in respect of an act which is past and which is not likely to be repeated and should not be considered to be an alternative measure in those cases where the prosecution have insufficient evidence to substantiate a charge.
Applications to bind a person over may be made in a variety of circumstances e.g. minor assaults inside private premises where there are no truly independent witnesses, continuing domestic disputes, other minor cases where it is obvious that both parties are at fault with no other evidence to support either party in their counter-allegations, etc.