Criminal records for admission of guilt offences to be expunged, says Minister
JOHANNESBURG - In a move likely to benefit thousands of South Africans, criminal records – including some of those obtained during the Covid-19 pandemic – will be expunged, according to Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery.
Jeffery told Sunday Independent that a review of the regulations in the Judicial Matters Bill had been on the cards long before lockdown, with the intention to wipe the slate clean for people with records for certain categories of admission of guilt offences.The deputy minister said many people had paid admission of guilt fines as an “easy solution”, without knowing that this would leave them with criminal records. The government was now looking at removing the criminal records of those who found themselves in this situation. “We have identified for a while that in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, there is a problem with admission of guilt fines resulting in people having criminal records,” Jeffery said.
More than 150 000 people have criminal records over Covid-19 regulation breaches alone – though this figure, according to the deputy minister, could be higher.
“There will be retroactive effect on past and future admissions of guilt for Covid-19 fines,” he said. “This is not about stopping prosecutions. This may be debatable but if you have a lockdown, it needs to be enforced, and one way in which this is done is by creating crimes.
“A crime during the hard lockdown may differ from area to area but the law applies to everybody. Therefore, just because you live in a leafy suburb and there is nobody on the streets, it does not give you the right to walk your dogs, when everybody else is confined to a lockdown.
“The issue is simply around the criminal records for admission of guilt fines,” he said. He said amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act would ensure that the minister is able to revisit the categories of crimes for admission of guilt so that people don’t get criminal records. The proposed changes on expungements would be put through the Cabinet process for lawmakers to consider admission of guilt fines so that the penalties are not as harsh, especially for young people.
“It’s a twofold thing, looking to the future and going back as well.
*This article was originally published in the Sunday independent