Police minister Bheki Cele says that the South African Police Service has made over 400,000 arrests due to the violation of Covid-19 regulations.
Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A from the EFF, Cele said that a total of 411,309 people have been arrested for breaching regulations since lockdown began at the end of March 2020 until the end of February 2021.
South Africa first introduced its disaster management regulations on 28 March 2020, the police minister said.
Previous data released by the Justice department shows that most South Africans have been arrested for breaching gathering rules and breaching the evening curfew.
The South African Police Service can give a person who has been arrested on suspicion of a less serious crime an option to pay an admission of guilt fine.
Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offence without having to appear in court, thereby preventing an unnecessary overload of the court system.
It is also meant to resolve less serious matters quickly, where an accused person accepts responsibility for having committed a minor offence. However, an admission of guilt comes with a criminal record.
Because of this, legal experts have warned against paying an admission of guilt fine as it means that South Africans could receive a criminal record.
“My view is that you definitely don’t sign an admission of guilt form. Even if you have been taken to the police station and processed, the document will also have a date in which you must appear in court,” said defence attorney William Booth in a January interview.
“You have a number of options – my view is that you approach a lawyer immediately. This attorney can make representations to the senior state prosecutor in the magistrates court where you have to appear.
“If you have a good case and your personal circumstances are fairly significant, then you can have your charges withdrawn.”
The Department of Justice and Correctional Services has acknowledged problems with the current system and is currently working on new legislation which will stop admission of guilt fines attracting criminal records in South Africa.
In May 2020, deputy minister John Jefferies said that the issue of admission of guilt fines and criminal records had been on government’s radar outside of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“This is something we have been wanting to address and it is something that will be (included) in an upcoming Judicial Matters Bill,” he said. “The idea will be that most admission of guilt fines will not attract a criminal record.
“Sometimes the due process is not properly followed and sometimes people are pressured to pay the fine and don’t realise they are going to get a record and will affect their rights.”