Court finds Quinn jnr's contempt 'outrageous'
FOUR OUT OF five Supreme Court judges have found the High Court was entitled to jail Seán Quinn jnr for three months over “outrageous” contempt of court orders restraining the stripping of assets from the Quinn’s international property group.
However, all five judges found that Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the former Anglo Irish Bank, engaged in “procedurally and substantively flawed” actions seeking to have Quinn jnr jailed indefinitely pending reversal of some 30 asset-stripping measures, when the finding of contempt against him related to just one measure.
While that did not mean the bank did not have strong grounds for pursuing Quinn jnr over the other matters, it must follow “appropriate procedures” and had not done so, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly said. The bank had argued it was inconvenient to have to allege and prove each contempt but this was simply about “respect for justice and the rule of law”.
Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said some of the difficulties in the High Court appeared to arise from confusion between civil and criminal contempt. Irish law on contempt of court is “amorphous” and it is “most unfortunate” it remains unreformed some 20 years after the Law Reform Commission urged reform, he observed.
The Supreme Court said last week it would dismiss Quinn jnr’s appeal on most grounds and gave its written judgments yesterday.
Quinn jnr appealed Miss Justice Elizabeth Dunne’s finding last June that he acted in contempt of June/July 2011 court orders restraining asset stripping via involvement in a US$500,000 (€386,000) payment to Larissa Puga, general director of Quinn Properties Ukraine, just before the bank took over that company.
He also appealed orders jailing him over the Puga payment and over non-compliance with some 30 coercive orders intended to reverse many asset-stripping measures. Those were made last July against Quinn jnr, his father, and his cousin, Peter Darragh Quinn, following findings all three acted in contempt of orders restraining asset-stripping.
The judge also ordered Peter Darragh Quinn be jailed but that remains unexecuted while he remains in Northern Ireland.
Seán Quinn snr was not jailed after the judge agreed to the bank’s request he remain free for the purpose of securing compliance with the coercive orders. Ms Justice Dunne will next week review compliance matters.
Yesterday, giving the Supreme Court majority judgment, Mr Justice Fennelly said there was “ample” evidence to justify the finding of “outrageous” contempt “beyond reasonable doubt” against Quinn jnr via his involvement in the Puga payment.
The High Court was entitled to disbelieve inconsistent accounts from Quinn jnr and Peter Darragh Quinn about why they went to Kiev just before the payment was made and the evidence also included Quinn jnr’s sworn statement expressly admitting he had taken steps with others to put assets beyond the reach of the bank so as to frustrate its efforts to enforce security over those assets, a security the Quinns dispute.
Ms Justice Dunne jailed Quinn jnr for three months over the Puga payment only and was “amply justified” in doing so, he said.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell and Mr Justice Liam McKechnie all agreed with those findings.
Mr Justice Hardiman dissented but agreed with the majority that the High Court was not entitled to jail Quinn jnr indefinitely to try to enforce compliance with some 30 coercive orders.
Mr Justice Fennelly rejected the bank’s arguments that the High Court, in the context of contempt proceedings, could make coercive orders extending beyond its actual findings of contempt for the purpose of protecting the entire terms of the 2011 orders.
A person cannot be jailed over failing to undo an act in respect of which there was no contempt finding against them. While the bank argued there was evidence the three Quinns were involved in an asset-stripping conspiracy, the central point was the bank never applied to amend its case to allege broader acts of contempt against Quinn jnr.
The procedures followed by the bank in relation to Quinn jnr after the contempt findings “fell far short of what is required”. On those and other grounds, the court set aside almost all of the coercive orders against Quinn jnr, apart from orders including one to reverse the Puga payment.