PRETORIA - The government said it is considering expunging the criminal records of people who have violated lockdown regulations but it won’t do this now because it wants to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Tens of thousands of people have criminal records since the State of Disaster was enacted almost a year ago.
Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that about 20,000 people have been arrested for violating the latest lockdown regulations.
Nearly 7,500 of them were not wearing a mask in public.
Paying the admission of guilt fine carries with it more than just a financial penalty.
Justice Project SA's Howard Dembovsky said, “if you have been arrested and your fingerprints have been taken then a criminal record will be recorded against your particulars, no matter how minor that offence is and that will actively prevent you from gaining employment, and it will also prevent you from gaining a travel visa to other countries. That will endure for a period of 10 years.”
The suggestion is that the fines ought to be handled like speeding tickets - which don’t carry criminal records.
Dembovsky said, “these criminal records are enduring and there is no apparent reason why the minister of Co-operative Governance should actually declare these things to be criminal offences when she could just as easily prescribe administrative fines or in fact ask people to do community service.”
The government said it's concerned by the large number of people earning criminals records but its priority is curbing COVID-19.
Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffries said, “yes, we would like to see a process for expunging records for admission of guilt fines because of the detrimental effect on people. But also, at this stage, in the middle of the second wave, people must follow the regulations, it is for our own good.”
Jeffries says the records do serve a legitimate purpose.
He said, “the importance of criminal records now for breaking the regulations is that the courts can see that you have become a serial offender."
"You can’t just each time pay the fine for breaking the curfew and the next time you are treated the same. Obviously, with a criminal record, the court will see that this person is doing it more often and then the penalties get steeper.”
Even before the first lockdown, a bill was being proposed to have some admission of guilt criminal records expunged but this would have to be approved by Parliament.