Significant amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act are on the horizon and if passed into law, will provide for South Africans’ criminal records to be “expunged” by paying an admission of guilt fine.
The changes recently came into the spotlight again, after the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, was asked by an ACDP MP whether or not he would be amending the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) to ensure that people who paid an admission of guilt fine for trivial offences didn’t get a criminal record. The proposed changes were initially laid out in the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, which has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
What does the law say about paying an admission of guilt fine and getting a criminal record?
In its current form, the CPA provides for the admission of guilt for specific offences and for payment of a fine without an accused person having to appear in the court. The act also allows for paying an admission of guilt fine after an accused has appeared in court, but before entering into a plea.
Once the admission of guilt fine has been paid, the money, the summons or the written notice to appear in court must be handed over the clerk of the Magistrate’s court that has the jurisdiction to handle the fine. From there, the clerk will fill in the criminal record book stating an admission of guilt. The person who paid the fine has then essentially been convicted and sentenced by the court.
“The immediate practical effect of paying an admission of guilt fine is that the accused is excused from a court appearance and upon completion of the formalities as prescribed in Section 57(6), deemed to have been convicted and sentenced by the court in respect of the relevant charge,” said Lamola in a briefing.
Of course, Lamola also correctly pointed out that not all admission of guilt fines result in a getting a criminal record and that the CPA also provides for the compounding of certain trivial or minor offences (these include breaking some by-laws or minor traffic violations). Paying an admission of guilt fine will not result in a conviction.
According to Lamola, “the CPA allows magistrates to set an amount on the spot on the admission of guilt. It is also worth noting that, since this is a judicial function, our department has had engagements with the chief magistrates to try to get uniformity on such fines”.
How does the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill propose to change admission of guilt fines?
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has confirmed that revisions will be made regarding the admission of guilt fines and payment as provided for in the CPA.
The amendments include:
- The payment of general fines that DO NOT result in a conviction.
- The payment of admission of guilt fines that DO attract a conviction.
- The expungement of certain criminal records that came from the payment of admission of guilt fines.
- The clearing of criminal records as a result of paying an admission of guilt fines related to trivial or minor offences BEFORE the enactment of the proposed amendments.
Legal note: the expungement of criminal records as a result of paying an admission of guilt fine could be life-changing for some people. Learn more about expunging criminal records in South Africa.
- A new process to pinpoint which offences will be subjected to the payment of fines.
- An improved and streamlined process regarding the payment of admission of guilt fines.
Lamola has stated that the draft bill is in the later stages of being completed and will be out for public comment in October 2020.
Don’t rush to pay an admission of guilt fine!
Remember, the Bill hasn’t been signed into law just yet, so paying an admission of guilt fine to avoid jail time could still result in a criminal record! Always speak to a lawyer before signing anything that states you have been convicted of a crime. LAW FOR ALL policyholders must also remember that should they get arrested, they have access to a FREE 24hr Emergency Bail Line for immediate assistance – we’ve got your back!