Can Criminal Records be Erased?

Someone who has committed a crime will battle to find employment and may not even pass background checks by credit providers or home rental agents. Depending on the magnitude of the crime, having a criminal record erased might have an individual with a questionable past make a fresh start in life.

As an employer, if a criminal record can be erased, it would mean easily hiring someone who has committed crime without even knowing it. If the crime was financial fraud and the individual has applied to work for your financial company, the criminal record would be pertinent. However, if the criminal record was for something relatively small like spray painting a neighbour’s wall when the individual was in university, it would be better if the criminal record could be erased.


When can a criminal record be erased?

Up until 2009, a criminal record could not be erased in South Africa. No matter how minor or how long ago the crime was committed, a criminal would have to live with the black mark against their name for the rest of their lives. This meant that getting a job, a home, settling down and living a normal life was very difficult. Of course, because the criminal had committed the crime, this was a necessary and deserved punishment.

However, the government felt that it was necessary to allow some criminals to have their records expunged, allowing them to make fresh starts and start anew. In May 2009, a law allowing for certain categories of crimes to be expunged from the criminal’s record, came into effect. This was made possible through certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act.


How does one get their criminal record expunged?

There are several requirements for getting a criminal record wiped clean. They are:

  • The criminal only qualifies for expungement if the offence was a minor one (this is determined by the sentence that was imposed).
  • The criminal record can only be wiped clean ten years after the criminal was charged.
  • The criminal record will only be expunged so long as the criminal was not convicted of anything for which they were sentenced without the option of a fine in that ten year period.
  • Criminals who have been convicted of sexual offence to children and those officially registered as sex offenders in the country’s national register cannot qualify.
  • Those who are registered as offenders under the National Child Protection Register will not qualify.

How to apply for the expungement of a criminal record

There are several steps to applying for a criminal record to be erased. The application process is outlined by the Amendment Act. The applicant must write to the Director General of the Department of Justice with all the necessary and relevant forms filled out. If the Director General is satisfied that the applicant meets all the requirements for having his or her criminal record expunged, he or she will then formulate and send a ‘certificate of expungement’ to the head of the Criminal Record Centre of the South African Police Service.

The centre will then, acting on the authority of the certificate, erase the criminal record of the applicant. Application forms and documents are available from all of the Department of Justice’s national and regional offices as well as all magistrate’s offices and police stations.

The question ‘can criminal records be erased?’ is a pertinent one for everyone. For those who have committed minor crimes for which they are truly repentant, having their records expunged could mean a fresh start in life and the possibility that they could become a good South African citizen with much to offer. The Department of Justice do not take lightly the responsibility of clearing criminals’ records and their process ensures that only those deserving of a second chance will get one.