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Written by: Kaylen Moodley | Candidate Attorney

In the Court’s first judgment of the year in the case of Brauns and Others v Wilkes N.O and Others, the Labour Appeal Court (LAC) of South Africa ruled on a case involving the dismissal of former employees from the South African Police Service (SAPS) on charges of dishonesty related to overtime claims. The appellants contested their dismissals, leading to a battle that sheds light on the legal principles surrounding employee confessions in the context of disciplinary matters.


Background of the Case

The first appellant, Quinton Brauns, served as a financial clerk within SAPS. Allegations arose that Brauns and two other appellants, his wife and sister-in-law, misrepresented their entitlement to overtime payments. The trio faced charges of fraud and conspiracy to defraud SAPS. Upon dismissal, they filed an unfair dismissal claim, which was rejected by the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council. Undeterred, the appellants sought recourse through a review application at the Labour Court, only to face further disappointment when the court dismissed their application. The case ultimately reached the Labour Appeal Court.


Key Facts and Findings

The appellants’ guilt was established through evidence showing unauthorized payments received for unworked overtime, made using other employees’ access credentials without their knowledge. Brauns confessed to the fraudulent conduct before a magistrate. This confession formed a pivotal aspect of the case and prompted the LAC to explore the legal intricacies of employee confessions in disciplinary proceedings.


Legal Principles on Employee Confessions

The LAC highlighted several essential legal principles related to employee confessions in the context of disciplinary matters:

  1. General requirements for a valid confession:
  • A valid confession must be freely and voluntarily made without undue influence, coercion, or intimidation.
  • The confession must be clear, unambiguous, and the employee should understand its consequences.


  1. Invalidity Due to Fear of Criminal Prosecution:
  • Whether a confession is rendered invalid due to fear of criminal prosecution depends on the circumstances of each case.
  • A confession may be considered involuntary or influenced by a promise or threat, rendering it inadmissible or unreliable.


  1. Information Before Confessing:
  • An employee is not entitled to information about disciplinary charges before confessing.
  • A confession generally forms part of the investigation, and charges may be based on evidence, including the confession.


Conclusion and Key points

While a valid confession can be considered by an employer in disciplinary proceedings, it alone cannot justify an employee’s dismissal. The case emphasized that employers must follow a fair procedure and demonstrate that dismissal is an appropriate sanction. In this specific case, Brauns’ confession was deemed valid as it was made willingly and corroborated, leading to the affirmation of the dismissals.

Employers should be cautious in relying solely on confessions and ensure that fair procedures are followed, considering additional evidence. This case serves as a reminder that while confessions can be powerful evidence, they are not a shortcut to a fair and just disciplinary process.


Photo by Igor Omilaev on Unsplash