Photo: SAPS / Twitter
Photo: SAPS / Twitter
A cohort of legal experts has tackled the government head-on with the issuing of on-the-spot fines for lockdown breaches. Thousands of South Africans have been asked to pay ‘admission of guilt’ charges when they are cuffed for breaching the current restrictions – but they come with a sinister sting in the tail.
Paying an admission of guilt fine can seem like the quickest way out of a legal jam, but it may also come with long-lasting legal repercussions. Those who have signed-off on the fines have been lumped with a criminal record – something that makes finding a new job and travelling abroad a little more difficult.
Francois van Graan is a representative of SAPS Legal Services. He told us that even a minor contravention of lockdown laws could create a criminal record in your name. The police expert says that people need to consider the implications of signing these papers once they’ve been arrested.
“You can get yourself a criminal record, even for a minor contravention of these lockdown laws. Even if you sign for an admission of guilt fine, there are still implications for you which can lead to a criminal record being registered in your name. Breaking laws in the National Disaster Act can have serious consequences.”
“It’s correct to say that you can still get a criminal record after you’ve quickly paid-off an admission of guilt fine. As police officers, we warn all suspects during their arrest about the consequences of signing the forms.”Francois van Graan, SAPS Legal Services
Paul Jorgenson is a high-profile advocate. The legal analyst has blasted the ‘back-door tactics’ employed by SAPS during the lockdown, telling TimesLive that Constitutional rights are being eroded. Jorgenson suggests that people are better off taking an arrest on the chin and must welcome any court action ahead of paying the fine. It’s his view that the courts will ‘decline to prosecute’ many citizens as a backlog of cases pile up:
“Paying admission of guilt fines is paying away all your constitutional rights. I understand that people just want to get it over and done with quickly, but it is not like paying, for example, a parking ticket…”
“If they take your fingerprints, you will get a criminal record. I believe hundreds of civil claims are in the offing and in many cases, prosecutors will decline to prosecute when people start appearing in courts.”Advocate Paul Jorgenson
The flaw in the system has been noted by Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffries, who revealed on Monday that his department would consider lifting the criminal implications that come with the admission of guilt fine. But despite these platitudes, multiple legislative scholars are encouraging South Africans not to sign the associated forms.
“Sometimes the due process is not properly followed and sometimes people feel 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.”Deputy Justice Minister John Jefferies
Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is currently serving a two-month suspension – one of which will be unpaid – after she flouted the lockdown laws to go and have lunch with her friend, Mduduzi Manana. A communication issued by the NPA revealed that Ndabeni-Abrahams had paid an “admission of guilt” fine of R1 000 for contravening the National Disaster Act in April.
The new regulations prohibit people from leaving their homes to see friends or family, and social occasions are definitely not exempt from the guidelines. However, by signing the paperwork, the minister had to accept that a criminal record would be filed in her name. Oh, how she could have done with this legal advice last month…