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 shoplifting pen

The expunging of criminal records. Fact or fantasy?

Here is an interesting inquiry that we received in on Friday last week from a client who we advised accordingly.

“I completed my tertiary education at the end of 2017 and I have been looking for employment since January 2018. I just can’t get work, mainly, I think, because I have a criminal record. The criminal record stems from a case of shoplifting that I committed in 2007 and to which charge I pleaded guilty and for which I received an R500 fine without any suspended sentence attached. Can my criminal record be removed?”

“Yes, it can” is the short answer to your question.

A criminal record can be expunged from the records of the Criminal Records Centre after a period of ten years has elapsed from the date of conviction for that offence, should the offender not commit another offence and have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment without the option of a fine during the ten year period subsequent to such conviction and sentence. 

The removal of the criminal record is in line with the principle of restorative justice enshrined in our legal system and which affords offenders a second chance in life. The provisions of section 271D of the Criminal Procedure Act No 51 of 1977 determines the process which must be followed for expunging of a criminal record. 

Sections 271A to 271C provide an indication of the sort of convictions and sentences that the offender should be given in order for him/her to qualify for their criminal record to be expunged. In the above case study, the petty theft (shoplifting) conviction and sentence of an R 500.00 fine fall under Section 271B as it relates to an offence, conviction and a sentence of a fine only, and that fine does not exceed R20,000.

If you want to expunge a criminal record such as this one; the process that has to be followed is as follows:

1. You must approach a police station in order to obtain a clearance certificate from the SAPS which shows that a period of at least ten years has elapsed since the conviction and sentencing took place.

  1. Once a clearance certificate has been obtained, you must obtain and fill in the applicable application forms, which can be obtained on the internet. There are forms which must be filled in depending on whether the conviction and sentence fall within section 271A, 271B or 271C of the Criminal Procedure Act. In the above case study, or example, the offence falls under section 271B and the client referred to above will therefore have to fill in and complete Form A of the application papers.

  2. Once he has fully completed the application, it must be sent to the Director-General for Justice and Constitutional Development, who will check whether he fits the criteria for expungement of the criminal record, and should he meet all of those requirements, that department will issue a Certificate of Expungement.

  3. The Certificate of Expungement will be sent to the head of the Criminal Records Centre of the SAPS, ordering that the applicable criminal record involved in this process is to be expunged.

  4. Once the Certificate of Expungement has been received by the Criminal Records Centre; it must comply with the order made and must expunge the criminal record from the Criminal Records Centre system.

  5. This is not the end of the road though for our above mentioned client, as he will only be informed of the expungement of his criminal record once he submits a written request for it from the head of the Criminal Records Centre of the South African Police Services. It is not just sent to him. He has to apply for it.

    Identifying the section under which a specific offence falls can get tricky and result in the incorrect procedure being followed to expunge a criminal record. It is therefore wise to obtain legal advice prior to beginning with the process and then during the process to assist you in ensuring that your record is confirmed as expunged by the Criminal Records Centre.

 Please visit our website at or send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will respond to your legal queries within 48 hours.

About our author:

Hugh Pollard (Legal Consultant), has a BA LLB and 42 years’ experience in the legal field. 22 years as a practicing attorney and conveyancer; and 20 years as a Legal Consultant.

082-0932304 (Hugh’s Cell Number)

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