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An appeal court has dramatically reduced a five-year jail term given a 74-year-old man for molesting four young girls, calling the sentence "unduly long and harsh" and cutting it in half.

Reginald O'Keefe will now serve 30 months, less time served, for indecently assaulting the girls, who are all now women.

"There was no intercourse, but in some cases the girls were held captive and assaulted in circumstances which instilled great fear," Justice Lois Hoegg of the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador said in a ruling released Monday.

The women came forward separately in 2014 after hearing he had been convicted of molesting a three-year-old girl, and he has also separately been convicted of indecent and harassing phone calls.

For his most recent case, O'Keefe appeared in court hunched over a walker. He was convicted in September 2016 of six counts of indecent assault – including three counts involving the same girl.

The trial judge sentenced O'Keefe to 10 months for each charge, with the terms to be served consecutively. But the appeal court said that ignored "the totality principle" in sentencing.

Hoegg's ruling explained that principle, saying it requires "a sentence to be 'proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender and 'where consecutive offences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh."' Hoegg noted a previous case that said judges are required to "take one last look at the total sentence to determine whether it is unduly long or harsh, in the sense of it being disproportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender."

She added: "I am of the view that his sentence of 60 months is unduly long and harsh in the circumstances."

She ordered that three of the 10-month sentences be made concurrent to the others.

On behalf of the three-judge panel, Hoegg also noted old age can be a consideration in sentencing, but it would only be "of minimal consideration" in this case because of O'Keefe's recent conviction for abusing a very young child while in his mid-60s.

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