This article is based on observation of 66 applications for bail brought by men detained indefinitely for immigration purposes. It argues that although the research is incomplete – the full stories of the applicants could not be known, neither the Home Office Presenting Officers nor the Immigration Judges could be ‘shadowed’ or even interviewed, court records are not public – there is value in doing ‘observation’ without ‘participation’ of institutions which act in the name of the public. This research shows that the outcomes of bail applications are not, as the public might imagine, always fair and unequivocal. All too often, they look like ‘the luck of the draw’, bringing the institution and its presiding officers into disrepute. The article illustrates this point using ‘dialogues’ from two bail hearings where the same applicant appeared before two different judges, with very different outcomes.