HMA v Janey Farquhar

Seventy year old Ms Farquhar who was jailed for embezzling more than £70,000 from a church has won an appeal to quash her 18 month custodial sentence. The sentence was originally two years but discounted for an early guilty plea. The Appeal Court in Edinburgh held there was no reason for a custodial sentence to be imposed given her clean record and old age. Ms Farquhar pled guilty to embezzling the money while acting as a treasurer for a church in Port Seton.

This occurred over a period of eight years. By the time the case was heard in court the appellant has repaid £15,000 of the embezzled money. The original Sheriff concluded there was a need for a deterrent sentence which would warn other because of the serious nature of the offence. The appellant appealed on the grounds that this sentence was not appropriate and also excessive. The appellant suffered from significant health difficulties and had fallen in to debt when the crime began and she was not able to repair her home. The appellant defence team stated the appellant was “remorseful and embarrassed” and she also offered to sell her home to repay the money in full at the original hearing.

They also argued at sentencing that the appellant should be given a non custodial sentence given that this was common in financial cases such as this and that she was a first time offender. After the sentencing the appellant spend 7 weeks in custody and then was granted interim liberation. She repaid the money back in full during this time.

Allowing the appeal the appeal court quashed the sentence after stating the original sheriff was “too hasty” in rejecting the appellants case for a non custodial sentence and instead she was given a fine of £15,000 to be repaid within one year. Lord Turnbull stated in concluding the appeal: “We accept immediately that the offence to which the appellant pled guilty was a serious one. As set against that, the appellant’s personal circumstances, in particular her age, her lengthy period of constructive employment and her medical conditions, constitute powerful mitigating factors.

We also consider that certain errors can be identified in the sheriff’s approach. On the information available there appeared to be no reason for the sheriff to suppose that a deterrent sentence was required. Nor does he explain why he arrived at that conclusion.”