John Gilligan and family lose European case against State over seizure of assets
Notorious gangster John Gilligan and members of his family have had a case against the State over the confiscation of ill-gotten gains thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Gilligan, his ex-wife Geraldine and children Treacy and Darren claimed their right to a fair trial within a reasonable period was breached due to the length of time it took to conclude proceedings against them under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
However, the ECHR ruled today that major delays in the proceedings were in fact caused by the Gilligan family themselves.
“The court found that the applicants, through their vexatious delaying tactics, had been responsible for the overall duration of the proceedings,” the ECHR said in a statement.
It said the Gilligans had been re-litigating the same issues repeatedly, in what the Irish courts had found to be an abuse of process.
“The court was of the view that speeding the proceedings towards a conclusion held little real interest for the applicants. Indeed, their conduct strongly suggested the contrary intention,” the ECHR statement said.
It said the Gilligans engaged in “wrong-headed legal tactics”, which seemed more designed to frustrate and delay the proceeds of crime proceedings than to reach a conclusion.
The case related to proceedings taken by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) as far back as 1996 in the aftermath of the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin by the Gilligan gang.
In November that year CAB applied to freeze and ultimately confiscate properties belonging to the Gilligans.
A 21-day interim order was made by the High Court under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Several subsequent orders followed, leading up to a freezing order in July 1997 after the High Court accepted evidence the properties had been bought with earnings from the sale of drugs.
Complex, multi-faceted proceedings were then initiated by the Gilligans, who were granted legal aid.
When the proceedings began John Gilligan was in prison in the UK having been arrested while carrying Stg£300,000 through Heathrow Airport.
He was later extradited from the UK to Ireland, where he was convicted of drugs offences and sentenced to 28 years’ imprisonment, reduced to 20 on appeal. However, he was acquitted of Ms Guerin’s murder. He was released from prison in October 2013.
John Gilligan challenged the constitutionality of the Proceeds of Crime Act before the High Court in 1997 and the Supreme Court in 2001, losing on both occasions.
The Gilligans sought by various means to have the freezing order overturned or the proceedings against them struck out. Their challenge to the freezing order on procedural grounds was rejected by the High Court in 2006 and Supreme Court in 2008.
The latter court highlighted that the legislation offered several possibilities to correctly challenge a freezing order and described the excuse thatthe applicants had not understood the finality of the freezing order until a High Court ruling in February 2006 as “clearly false”.
Authorities applied for disposal of the properties in December 2004, which was ultimately granted in 2011 following various legal challenges by the Gilligans and finally upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017. The properties included the Jessbrook equestrian centre in Co Kildare.
The ECHR said the High Court found the Gilligans had failed to discharge the onus on them to show that the properties in question had not been acquired using the proceeds of crime or that the freezing order was unjust.
It noted the High Court described John Gilligan’s evidence about the source of the funds used to acquire the properties – betting on horses, currency exchange and borrowing – as “untruthful”, “incredible”, “without foundation” and “implausible”.
The Gilligans appealed against three High Court judgments in relation to property seizures, arguing, among other things, that the court had lacked jurisdiction to examine the matter.
In their ECHR proceedings, the main complaint made by the Gilligans concerned claims their property rights and rights to fair proceedings under the European Convention of Human Rights were breached.
However, a three-judge ECHR committee found authorities in Ireland dealt with matters diligently and without major delays overall.
There had been no logjam of cases concerning the freezing of property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and no systemic delay.
As the Gilligans had been permitted to live in the properties during this time, the court found the length of the proceedings had not been unduly prejudicial to them.