Ex-solicitor jailed for €260,000 theft has 12-month term halved

Jacqueline Durcan (47) had pleaded guilty to stealing €260,000 between 2008 and 2011

A former solicitor jailed for stealing €260,000 from clients has had her 12-month prison sentence halved on appeal.

Jacqueline Durcan (47), with an address at Rue Laubespin, Brussels, had pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €260,000 between February 21st, 2008 and January 27th, 2011. She was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment by Judge Patricia Ryan on December 8th last.

The mother-of-five successfully appealed against her sentence on Monday, with the Court of Appeal holding the case could have been met with a sentence “somewhat less” than 12 months.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice George Birmingham said Durcan had been running the family business, Durcan Solicitors in Castlebar, Co Mayo, as a sole solicitor at the time of the offence. She had taken over from her father. She has since been struck off.


In February 2011, on learning that her practice was due for a routine audit, Durcan contacted the Law Society and told them there was a deficit in her client accounts in the region of €250,000.

Property investments

In the course of interviews with Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation officers, Durcan explained she had made a number of property investments which had gone wrong, resulting in debts of €6.5 million.

All individuals potentially at loss were compensated through the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund, which in turn was reimbursed in full by Durcan.

Her barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, referred to the enormous loss of reputation, professional or otherwise, she had experienced as a result of her conviction.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said the Court of Appeal was unable to conclude that the Circuit Court erred in deciding the case required custody.

The large sum of money involved, the duration of the offending and the fact she occupied a position of trust as a solicitor meant the offence had to be regarded as serious, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Mitigating factors

On the other hand, powerful mitigating factors included the level of co-operation, the reimbursement in full, the early plea, the fact she was “suffering grievously for her transgressions” as well as the “very basic fact” that she was the mother of five young children, aged seven to 13.

As a response to the offence, Mr Justice Birmingham said, the family had left their home in Ireland and gone to Brussels, where Durcan taught English as a foreign language and where she was the only French speaker in the family.

This meant any sentence would have to be served away from her husband and children.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Durcan had been a woman of impeccable character, who not only had no previous convictions, but had made a positive contribution to society “both at home and internationally”.

He said a sentencing judge, having decided that a custodial sentence could not be avoided, and having decided on the appropriate sentence for a person of previous good character, should ask themselves whether a lesser sentence could properly meet the situation.

This case could have been dealt with by a sentence somewhat less than 12 months, the judge said. To the extent that that did not happen, there was an error.

Conscious of how difficult a prison sentence must be for a mother of a large young family required to serve her sentence away from her husband and children, the court reduced her sentence from 12 to six months.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the Court of Appeal was “struck” by information submitted about the difficulties Durcan faced maintaining contact with her husband and children in Brussels while she was in prison.