Co-operation key to influencing judge's views on what punishment for contempt should be
ANALYSIS:Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne made it clear the Quinns’ actions would affect her decisions
AT THE outset of yesterday’s hearing before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne in the Four Courts, the word on most people’s minds was “prison”.
Would the judge, after her harshly worded ruling earlier this week where she found Seán Quinn, his son Seán jnr and his nephew Peter Darragh Quinn guilty of contempt, send them to jail?
The three sat alongside each other yesterday morning waiting for the judge to enter the packed courtroom, fiddling with their phones and occasionally speaking with one of the many supporters who stood behind them.
A shudder seemed to run through them, and Seán jnr gave a wry, worried-looking smile to an acquaintance, when the door to the court opened and a uniformed garda walked in. He took a seat to the side of the judge’s stand.
Once proceedings got under way, counsel for Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), Paul Gallagher SC, and counsel for the three men, Bill Shipsey SC, outlined to the judge their views as to what could and should happen next.
After about an hour of this the judge interrupted Shipsey to say he did not have to deal with the issue of punitive sanctions, as she wanted to deal with what could be done to unwind what the three men had gotten up to in relation to putting assets beyond the reach of IBRC before turning to the issue of punitive sanctions.
The judge made it clear the level of co-operation from the three men over the coming weeks and possibly months would influence her view as to what punitive measures, if any, she should impose.
Seán jnr had, at times, seemed particularly nervous, while Peter Quinn spent most of his time in the room staring intently at the back of the bench in front of him. Seán snr spent most of the time looking steely-faced and determined.
Once the judge made it clear the issue of prison wouldn’t be arising at this stage, a lot of the tension went out of the room.
The dominant issue then became that of apology.
In her ruling earlier in the week the judge had made clear her unhappiness at the fact that not only had the three men acted in contempt of orders of the High Court, but had then come into the contempt hearings before her and given untruthful evidence.
However, there wasn’t a hint of contrition in the courtroom yesterday – something the judge noted and expressed disappointment over.
Counsel for the bank said the Quinns were adopting an “extraordinary position” and had expressed no apology and no acknowledgement of the seriousness of the findings against them. Counsel for the three men argued over the measures being sought by the bank and pointed out that, because of orders made recently by Mr Justice Peter Kelly against the three, Quinn’s four daughters and two sons-in-law, they are restricted from spending more than €2,000 per week each.
He indicated the three were of a mind to challenge some of the judge’s findings in relation to the contempt issue. He said there was little point in the court ordering the men to do things that were outside their control – a reference to the assignment of valuable assets to parties in jurisdictions far from these shores.
The battle between the bank and the now bankrupt Seán Quinn involves myriad foreign and offshore companies and a stream of individuals across a range of continents.
The whole exercise is apparently being run by a law firm in Dubai, Senat Legal Consultancy, while other elements of the Senat group have supplied offshore companies and other services to the scheme.
One of the rulings made by Ms Justice Dunne yesterday was that documents linked to Senat’s work and over which the men had possession or procurement should be given to the bank.
These might well prove a treasure trove for the bank, and perhaps for other parties who might one day find themselves investigating what the Quinns have been up to.
Outside the courts complex, Quinn found himself amid a scrum of photographers. Journalists asked him why he had not apologised, but all he did was walk on, stony-faced.
Where he and a few members of his family are going to end up is anyone’s guess at this stage. But Ms Justice Dunne has indicated the ball is very much in their court.