Theft — Sentence — Theft of money held in trust — Accused were Master of High Court, Assistant Master and an attorney — Large sums of money involved in theft over period of one year — Accused abused positions of trust, and severe sentences appropriate.

The appellants appealed against their convictions and sentences in the High Court for theft. The first appellant was the Master of the High Court, the second appellant was an attorney and the third appellant was the Assistant Master. All of the thefts were in respect of amounts stolen from the Guardians Fund. The first appellant was convicted of five counts involving R1,2 million and was sentenced to an effective 10 years’ imprisonment. The second appellant was convicted on two counts involving an amount of R294 000 and was sentenced to an effective 6 years’ imprisonment. The third appellant was convicted on one count involving R181 000 and was sentenced to an effective 4 years’ imprisonment. The court dismissed the appeals in respect of conviction and then considered the appeals against sentence.
Held, that the Master and Assistant Master were high-ranking officials and occupied responsible positions which were also positions of trust. They dealt with the assets of vulnerable people and entities that were in financial distress whose interests had to be protected. They handled matters relating to the liquidation and administration of the estates of deceased persons, the property of minors and persons under curatorship, and of derelict estates. They also dealt with the affairs of persons who were mentally disturbed or who lacked legal capacity, and they were in control of huge sums of money and assets of considerable value. They ought to be people of integrity.
Held, further, that the responsibilities of the second appellant, also an officer of the court, were well documented in our jurisprudence and his profession as an honourable one which demanded complete honesty, reliability and integrity from its members.
Held, further, that the Master deserved nothing less than 15 years’ imprisonment and the other two appellants an effective minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, and the court a quo had been extremely lenient in dealing with the appellants’ corrupt activities and maladministration stretching over a period of a year. The appeal against the sentences was dismissed.