A conman who swindled more than $7.6 million from his targets has won a cut in his jail term after the sentencing judge was said to have turned into "a champion of the victims".
Hamish Earle McLaren was jailed for 16 years with a non-parole period of 12 years in 2019 for fleecing 16 people, including good friends, fashion designer Lisa Ho and his then-girlfriend Tracy Hall.
The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday allowed his appeal, reducing his "manifestly excessive" term to 12 years with a non-parole period of nine years.
Justice Peter Hamill, sitting with Justices Clifton Hoeben and Stephen Rothman, accepted that the District Court sentencing judge's approach was "unbalanced and attended by error in principle".
McLaren's lawyers argued that Acting Judge Colin Charteris "became the victims' advocate and exhibited a lack of judicial impartiality and detachment".
Justice Hamill said after imposing what "appears to be the highest sentence recorded in NSW for offending of this kind" the judge then gave what he described as a "pep talk" to the media.
He spoke of the importance of reporting it was a 16-year sentence rather than 12 years as a lot of people are not released on parole after their minimum term.
"With due deference to an experienced Judge, this was no part of the judicial function," Justice Hamill said.
McLaren, 49 at the time of sentence, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and one count of knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime, between 2011 and July 2017 when he was arrested.
He variously presented himself as a barrister, a Harvard Business School graduate or an investment fund manager.
McLaren's barrister submitted the judge focused almost entirely on the objective seriousness of the offence while disregarding his client's lack of convictions, his early guilty plea and personal circumstances.
He contended the judge "effectively transmogrified himself as a champion of the victims", citing many examples from the transcripts of his statements and use of emotive language.
The appeal court found there was "real substance" in the submissions.
"It is one thing for a Judge to make almost exclusively adverse findings against a person standing for sentence and to emphasise the serious and repetitive nature of the offending and the impact of the crimes on the victims," Justice Hamill said.
"It is another thing for the sentencing proceedings and remarks to give the appearance of a lack of temperance and impartiality.
"In this case, there was perhaps no individual comment or incident that, considered in isolation, gave rise to such concerns.
"However, there was an accumulation of comments and observations all going the one way."
Examples included: "how could this man have acted in this way?", "a man who had spent six years spinning yarns to people and having the gift of the gab" and "he has absolutely no compassion for the victims."
He afforded him little credit for the plea, stating the fraudster was only sorry he got caught and had treated his victims contemptuously.