Supreme Court hears Gilligan bid to block sale of seized properties by CAB

Supreme Court hears Gilligan bid to block sale of seized properties by CAB

Convicted drug dealer John Gilligan has claimed before the Supreme Court he did not receive a proper trial when his assets were frozen by the State in 1996, writes Ann O'Loughlin.

As a result, his lawyers say, subsequent court rulings based on that decision were flawed or invalid.

He wants a five-judge Supreme Court to re-visit a decision it made in 2008 declaring certain of his assets, and those of his family, came from the proceeds of crime.

The family is also appealing a 2011 High Court decision which forfeit to the State certain of his assets and those of his family.

The property included an equestrian centre in Enfield, Co Meath, which Gilligan had bought and developed before he spent 17 years in prison for drug trafficking. Other property owned by his former wife Geraldine, daughter Tracey and son Darren, was also found to be the proceeds of crime.

The Gilligans claimed the properties were bought from legitimate earnings. In 2011, the late Mr Justice Kevin Feeney found their explanations incredible and improbable in a High Court judgment.

All four members of the family were in the Supreme Court for a two-day hearing of their appeal in which they seek to overturn the previous proceeds of crime orders.

They are represented by the Queen's Counsel from London. They were previously granted free legal aid for the appeal.

They are also bringing a challenge claiming their constitutional and European Convention rights have been breached.

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), which obtained the orders and has since sold off the Enfield equestrian centre, disputes they have any right to bring a further appeal.

CAB says the issues have been determined on three separate occasions by the courts.

Their appeal did not meet the exceptional circumstances test for the Supreme Court to re-visit a decision, CAB says.

Michael Bromley-Martin QC, presenting the case for all the Gilligans in appealing the 2011 High Court decision, said in 1996 the family never got the opportunity, as provided for under Section 3 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996, to challenge the basis on which CAB applied to freeze the assets.

This meant that all subsequent court decisions were not valid. The late Mr Justice Feeney, whose 2011 they were appealing, had ruled that his hands were tied due to the 2008 Supreme Court decision, counsel said.

However, it was their case the invalidity of the original freezing orders gave effect to injustice, he said.

That effect was the Gilligans were deprived of property they lawfully owned and possessed without having had a trial of the proceeds of crime issue, he said.

That trial would have needed to have met a number of requirements, including whether the Gilligans had reasonable time to prepare their case, that they had an opportunity to be present, had legal representation, the right to cross-examine witnesses and that the trial would take place within a reasonable time, Mr Bromley-Martin said.

John Hardy QC, presenting the case for the Supreme Court to revisit the 2008 decision, said it did meet the exceptional circumstances test for such a revisit.

Asked by Mr Justice William McKechnie was he saying the 2008 Supreme Court decision was self-contradictory and inherently inconsistent, Mr Hardy said "yes".

Counsel said it was necessary for the matter to be clarified so that citizens may know what is lawful and what is not.

Ben O'Floinn BL, for CAB, said this "extraordinary application" had something of an "Alice through the look glass" feel to it. The 1997 order on which subsequent court decisions were based was valid, he said.

The Gilligans had ample opportunity over several years to present their case and were now seeking to appeal the 2011 decision in circumstances where they had not done so before the High Court.

Chief Justice Susan Denham, on behalf of the five-judge court at the outset of the hearing, described the papers presented to the court as being in a "disgraceful state".

They were too long, repetitive, and the index was not helpful which greatly increased the work of the court in the appeal, she said.

Mr Bromley-Martin said there were considerable attempts made to control the amount of paperwork and to avoid duplication.

The hearing continues.

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