More than 300,000 suspected criminals in the US lost bail payments this week when two insurance companies became insolvent.

Some of the defendants could be released or skip bail, it is feared.

Others could be rearrested and imprisoned or required to make extra payments.

The two Los Angeles County-based companies - Amwest Surety Insurance and its subsidiary, Far West Insurance - were liquidated earlier this year.

The 300,000-plus bail bonds they had issued were cancelled on 9 December.

They both specialised in underwriting various types of bonds.

The implications may vary between cases because judges may make different rulings.

US defendants who have been remanded in custody can get out by posting the entire bail sum to the court, or part of it through a bail bond agent.

If they fail to appear, the court keeps the bail and issues an arrest warrant.

In most cases, the defendant pays a non-refundable fee of about 10% of the bail through a bail agent, who then promises the court that the suspect will appear. Bail bond agents go after those who skip bail and, if they fail to find them, are left the bond forfeiture.

Insurance surety companies provide financial guarantees for the bonds to bail bond agents.