South Africa to Clear Covid Lockdown Violators’ Records: Major Judicial Reforms Proposed

Intensity of next Covid Wave in South Africa to be lower than the first

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in South Africa has announced its intentions to introduce changes to the country’s judiciary under the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, 2023. The revised amendment bill seeks to address various practical, procedural, and technical issues related to non-contentious cases and constitutional judgments, while also amending multiple acts overseen by the department.

  1. South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development plans to introduce the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, 2023, which aims to address various practical, procedural, and technical issues within the judiciary while amending multiple acts.
  2. The bill proposes to remove criminal records for individuals convicted of violating Covid lockdown laws, offering relief to those who paid fines or appeared in court.
  3. The Judicial Matters Amendment Bill also seeks to introduce penalties for making false declarations of domestic violence and allows for online applications for protection orders, imposing duties on Health and Social Development Departments to support victims.

According to a gazetted explanatory summary, the bill will soon be presented to the National Assembly. Comprising 37 clauses, the bill aims to bring about significant changes to current regulations. Some of the acts that will be affected by the new legislation include the Magistrates Courts Act, the State Liability Act, the Administration of Estates Act, and the Criminal Procedure Act, among others.

The majority of the proposed changes are intended to improve the internal functioning of the judicial system in a specific manner. This includes modifications to rules governing payment methods for affidavits, the regulation of calling witnesses, and multiple extensions of definitions. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group reports that the bill is among approximately 60 pieces of legislation currently at various stages of the legislative process.

Two of the most notable planned amendments in the bill pertain to the Criminal Procedure Act and the Domestic Violence Act:

Criminal Procedure Act:

The Judicial Matters Amendment Bill introduces changes to the Criminal Procedure Act, specifically concerning provisions related to the admission of guilt and the payment of fines. The bill allows for the payment of fines without requiring an appearance in court and without the need for a previous conviction.

More significantly, the bill proposes the removal of criminal records for individuals who have been convicted and sentenced for offences under regulations issued according to section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2002. This would apply to those who have paid an admission of guilt fine or appeared in court. In essence, the bill aims to expunge the criminal records of individuals who paid fines for violating Covid lockdown laws.

These laws included mandates such as wearing masks, participating only in limited social gatherings, adhering to curfews, and complying with alcohol and tobacco restrictions.

Domestic Violence Act:

The Judicial Matters Amendment Bill also seeks to introduce penalties for making false declarations of domestic violence. Before this bill, the Domestic Violence Act was amended through the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, which aimed to revise and provide new definitions such as “controlling behavior” and “coercive behavior.” It also expanded the definition of “domestic violence” to encompass spiritual abuse, elder abuse, and exposing children to listed behaviors.

Furthermore, the updated legislation allows for online applications for protection orders against domestic violence and imposes duties on officials in the Health and Social Development Departments to offer support to domestic violence victims.

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