The Department of Justice and Correctional Services is currently working on new legislation which will stop admission of guilt fines attracting criminal records in South Africas, says deputy minister John Jefferies.
Jefferies made the announcement in a parliamentary briefing on Monday (18 May) after opposition parties raised concerns about how many people have been arrested for breaking the country’s lockdown regulations.
According to the ACDP’s Steve Swart, more than 100,000 South Africans were arrested within the first 21-days of South Africa’s lockdown.
After paying admission guilt fines, a number of these South Africans now face additional hardships because of the criminal record they have attached to their names, Swart said.
This could include potential difficulties in finding employment as well as leaving the country at a later date.
Admission of guilt fines
The South African Police Service may give a person, who has been arrested on suspicion of a less serious crime, an option to pay an admission of guilt fine.
Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offence without having to appear in court. This prevents an unnecessary overload of the court system.
It is meant to resolve less serious matters quickly, where an accused person accepts responsibility for having committed a minor offence. However, people who pay an admission of guilt also attract a criminal record.
The South African Judiciary has published a series of directives which outline how much citizens will have to pay in ‘admission of guilt’ fines if they are found to breach the country’s lockdown rules.
The directives are based on provincial and magistrate districts, and are in line with the new level 4 lockdown regulations which were introduced from 1 May.
The directives also provide on how the court plans to deal with these cases, with KZN indicating that it will reserve judgement for breaches it deems trivial.
Jefferies said that the issue of admission of guilt fines and criminal records had been on government’s radar outside of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“This is something we have been wanting to address and it is something that will be (included) in an upcoming Judicial Matters Bill,” he said.
“The idea will be that most admission of guilt fines will not attract a criminal record.
“Sometimes the due process is not properly followed and sometimes people pay pressures to pay the fine and don’t realise they are going to get a record and will affect their rights.
“So this is something that we are going to be addressing.”