JOHANNESBURG – during a move likely to profit thousands of South Africans, criminal records – including a number of those obtained during the Covid-19 pandemic – are going to be expunged, consistent with Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery.
Jeffery told Sunday Independent that a review of the regulations within the Judicial Matters Bill had been on the cards long before lockdown, with the intention to wipe the slate clean for people with records surely categories of admission of guilt offences.
The deputy minister said many of us had paid admission of guilt fines as an “easy solution”, without knowing that this is able to leave them with criminal records. the govt was now watching removing the criminal records of these who found themselves during this situation. “We have identified for a short time that in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, there’s a drag with admission of guilt fines leading to people having criminal records,” Jeffery said.
More than 150 000 people have criminal records over Covid-19 regulation breaches alone – though this figure, consistent with the deputy minister, might be higher.
“There are going to be retroactive effect on past and future admissions of guilt for Covid-19 fines,” he said. “This isn’t about stopping prosecutions. this might be debatable but if you’ve got a lockdown, it must be enforced, and a method during which this is often done is by creating crimes.
“A crime during the hard lockdown may differ from area to area but the law applies to everybody. Therefore, simply because you reside during a leafy suburb and there’s nobody on the streets, it doesn’t offer you the proper to steer your dogs, when everybody else is confined to a lockdown.
“The issue is just round the criminal records for admission of guilt fines,” he said. He said amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act would make sure that the minister is in a position to revisit the categories of crimes for admission of guilt in order that people don’t get criminal records. The proposed changes on expungements would be put through the cupboard process for lawmakers to think about admission of guilt fines in order that the penalties aren’t as harsh, especially for children .
“It’s a twofold thing, looking to the longer term and going back also .
“We are planning for a few time on the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act to make sure that certain categories of admission of guilt won’t find yourself during a record for people ,” he said. But Jeffery said this wouldn’t be a blanket ruling as a number of the country’s
environmental laws, for instance , make provision for fines for an admission of guilt offence but expungement wouldn’t be allowed – to make sure companies don’t repeatedly break the law thinking that they might escape with a fine.
Asked whether logistically, the proposed expungement process would find yourself being a bureaucratic nightmare, Jeffery said: “Well, we’ll need to avoid that.
“There is an effort to digitise the expungement process to form it tons easier than the present process.
“But it’s obviously of concern also , and we’ll need to address it to make sure that it are often easily done.”
Jeffery said South Africa subscribed to the present push by human rights groups on the African continent to decriminalise petty crimes to make sure that folks weren’t caught up as a results of a conviction for minor offences.
“While our approach is restricted to South Africa , the problems being addressed in Africa are similar: we also want to make sure petty offences are decriminalised so people, particularly children , don’t find yourself with criminal records that might penalise them, which suggests they won’t get jobs, etc,” he said.
In this regard, therefore, Jeffery said moves were currently under thanks to amend regulations to expunge the criminal records of South Africans; for instance , an outsized number of individuals have criminal records for drinking publicly .
Currently, one has got to apply to the president for a pardon for expungement of crimes.
A large number of citizens had also paid admission of guilt fines during Covid-19.
“We will need to make sure that applications for expungement aren’t caught up and can be watching systems or a more practical and quicker turnaround,” he said.
He said once the paperwork had been finalised, Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola would announce details of categories for expungement.
However, there have been categories of offenders who wouldn’t qualify, for instance , child s.e.x offenders.
Legal counsellor at the Helen Suzman Foundation Anton van Dalsen said it made no sense for admission of guilt fines in respect of minor transgressions to steer to criminal records.
He said the foundation’s approach would be to suggest that something almost like Section 341 of the Criminal Procedure Act was applied to minor transgressions of the regulations issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act.
At a gathering of the Justice and Correctional Services Committee in Parliament on May 18, he said, Jeffery noted that the matter of admissions of guilt attracting criminal records was something the deputy minister had been eager to address for a short time .
“He stated his intention for many admissions of guilt to not produce a record ,” said Van Dalsen.
“However, we are unaware of any action being taken on this thus far ,” said Van Dalsen.