ACDP warns on criminal record for Covid-19 lockdown transgressions
CAPE TOWN - The ACDP on Monday warned that paying an admission of guilt fine for a contravention of the current Covid-19 national disaster regulations would translate into a criminal record entry and called for an amendment to prevent this.
ACDP MP Steve Swart says the public may not realise the implications of paying an admission of guilt fine and ought to instead consider making written representations to the public prosecuting authority if they were charged with breaching the regulations.
"Many of these persons, who have transgressed the regulations, will pay admission of guilt fines to avoid a court appearance," he said.
"Most people do not realise that they will then have a criminal record, which will have a serious impact on obtaining work, as well as other legal implications."
Swart called for an amendment to the regulations to ensure that this would not be the case.
Some of the regulations are highly controversial and opposition parties are pressing for the lockdown regime that has been in place for the past two months to be eased.
Swart said there was a widespread sense that some lockdown regulations were "irrational", including the nighttime military curfew and restrictions on exercise and trade.
He said statistics provided by the police at the end of April, reflected that by then 118,000 people had been charged during the first month of the national lockdown for violating the national disaster regulations.
Swart said the figure had presumably increased during the course of May and said his party was urging the justice ministry to look into the matter, given the large number of ordinarily law abiding citizens that could incur a blight on their records.
"The ACDP urges the ministry to look into this matter urgently, given the large number of normally law-abiding people who have been arrested and charged under the lockdown provisions," he said.
"In the meantime, we would advise those arrested and charged to make representations to the relevant prosecuting authority, particularly if it is considered a trivial offence."
The office of Western Cape MEC for community safety, Albert Fritz, said "paying an admission of guilt fine for any offence will result in a previous conviction".
However, it might not appear on the list of previous convictions presented to court because people's fingerprints are not normally taken when they pay an admission of guilt fine.
The offence would however be considered by a court if an accused had paid such a fine in the past and stands trial for a similar transgression.
The prosecutor or investigating officer could approach the clerk of the court to submit a form that would raise it as a previous conviction to be taken into account for sentencing purposes.
Swart said it appeared that in the case of many of the admission of guilt fines being issued under the lockdown, the recipients were in fact fingerprinted and formally charged, hence it would show up on their criminal records.
The deputy justice and correctional services Minister John Jeffery, said the ministry had for some time been working on a law amendment that would restrict the number of admission of guilt fines that would attract a criminal record.
He said such a measure would, however, be brought as an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act and would therefore have to be approved by Parliament.
Jeffery said it was expected that in case of an amendment, the minister of justice could specify categories to which it would not apply, for example companies paying admission of guilt fines for breaching environmental regulations.
He stressed that the ministry had been mulling an amendment for some time and was not contemplating it as a measure specifically to deal with the predicament of those apprehended for contravening the Covid-19 disaster regulations.
African News Agency
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