Delays help man win appeal

2012-06-27 00:00

A FORMER attorney who pleaded guilty in the Durban regional court seven years ago to stealing R207 546 in trust funds, has succeeded in an appeal against his jail sentence on grounds that he has since become fully rehabilitated.

High court judges Kevin Swain and J Henriques were told that Sumenthren Pillay has already repaid the Attorneys’ Fidelity Fund a total of R70 000, and intends to repay the full amount he took plus interest.

His personal circumstances have also changed and he is currently two thirds of the way through his masters degree in taxation.

The appeal court also took into account Pillay’s submission that the delay in setting down his appeal against sentence — which was not his fault — had been nerve-wracking and a daily source of stress.

Judge Swain said the state had not been able to explain why it took so long to set down the appeal.

Swain said the inordinate delay in setting down the appeal was inexcusable and a “damning indictment on the criminal justice system”.

He requested authorities to investigate to prevent a recurrence.

The judge said theft of trust funds by an attorney is an extremely serious offence and the sentence of six years’ imprisonment, half suspended, had been entirely appropriate at the time. However, in light of the evidence that Pillay was now rehabilitated — which was not disputed by the state — and the seven-year delay since sentencing, there was no reason to impose a custodial sentence on him now.

The appeal court instead imposed a wholly suspended sentence of six years’ imprisonment on condition that he continues to repay the Attorneys’ Fidelity Fund in full.

He has three years to do this.

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