“The ACDP welcomes the briefing on the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill today in the Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee (the Committee), which inter alia, contains proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act to allow for the expungement of criminal records related to COVID-19 transgressions.
The ACDP raised its concerns way back in 2020, when South Africa was subjected to one of the harshest lock-downs world-wide, resulting in thousands of normally law-abiding citizens being arrested on trivial offences in terms of the provisions of the COVID -19 Disaster Management Act and Regulations. Many citizens were unaware that paying an admission of guilt fine on such offences would result in them having a criminal record. This, in turn, would negatively impact on such persons’ employment opportunities.
We were pleased that the Committee in its June 2020 Budget Report agreed with our sentiments, expressing its concern about the number of arrests related to alleged COVID- 19 transgressions. It is clearly not desirable to make criminals of citizens for relatively minor offences.
The Committee noted in its report that the Department of Justice intended introducing a Judicial Matters Amendment Bill to address the problem and, as it was urgent, requested the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services to table it by the end of July 2020. Sadly, the Bill was only tabled this year, and is only now being considered by the Committee.
Clause 10 of the Bill proposes the insertion of new sections 57B, 57C and 57D into the Criminal Procedure Act. In terms of section 57B, the Minister may declare that certain categories of offences do not result in a previous conviction against an accused and provides for the expungement of minor offences, as well as certain offences committed in terms of the Disaster Management Act and Regulations.
Section 57C provides for the expungement of the criminal records of persons whose names appear in the records of the Criminal Record Centre of the South African Police Service (CRC) after having paid an admission of guilt fine for offences as envisaged in the proposed new section 57B(1). The objective of the amendment is also to provide for the automatic expungement of the criminal record. In the event that that is not the case, the amendment provides for the submission of a written application to assist any person in achieving the automatic expungement by the CRC.
The ACDP, while regretting that it has taken so long to table this Bill, welcomes the proposed amendments, and trusts that, once the Bill has been passed, all those persons who unwittingly incurred criminal records when paying admission of guilt fines will make use of its provisions to clear any criminal records they may have obtained.”