Reforming Corporate Criminal Liability in South Africa: Deferred Prosecution Agreements

Although South African law allows corporations to be held criminally liable for the misconduct of their directors and officers, in practice holding companies liable for corruption and other crimes can be a protracted process due to backlogs, delays, and an under-resourced prosecutorial agency. In recognition of this problem, as well as the prominent role corporations have had in facilitating corruption and state capture, South Africa’s Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has recommended, among other things, reforming South Africa’s corporate criminal liability laws to allow prosecutors to negotiate deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) to resolve corporate criminal cases. (Currently, South African prosecutors may negotiate and conclude plea and sentencing agreements with corporations, but this prosecutorial authority does not extend to DPAs.) The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has been tasked to consider the introduction of DPAs as part of its review of South Africa’s criminal justice system; the SALRC’s report and recommendations are expected to be finalized by 2024.

This issue has garnered considerable discussion among South African commentators. While many welcome the introduction of DPAs as a much-needed reform, a number of commentators have raised concerns, most prominently the concern that introducing DPAs in South Africa will enable prosecutors and corporations to strike secret deals and fail to hold corporations accountable (see here, and here, and here). Fortunately, there are a number of ways to mitigate this potential problem, which the SALRC can and should include in its report and recommendations. Continue reading