High Court challenge to gun licence refusal is settled

Wed, Feb 1, 2012, 00:00

A LEGAL challenge by a number of shooting enthusiasts over an alleged “blanket” policy by senior gardaí to refuse them licences for restricted firearms has been settled.

Terms include a fresh consideration of their applications “in accordance with law”.

The claimants had alleged that their applications to obtain licences for the firearms in question were being refused on a blanket basis without any adequate reasons.

The Garda authorities denied there was a fixed policy of refusing licences.

At the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice John Hedigan was informed that the proceedings, regarded as important test cases for about 160 similar cases, had been resolved following talks between the parties.

The talks began after the judge expressed serious concerns over a Garda alteration of licence application forms and said he wanted to hear what the State had to say about this before continuing with the case.

Under the terms of settlement, the State has agreed to quash the decisions refusing the applications for restricted firearm certificates.

The applications will be remitted to gardaí to be freshly considered in accordance with law.

The terms provide that any other person eligible to apply for a restricted firearm certificate who has previously been refused by a chief superintendent, and where refusal has not been appealed to the District Court, may reapply for a firearm certificate.

The State has also agreed to pay the costs of a number of the actions, including the three test cases that had opened before the High Court.

Mr Justice Hedigan had been considering those three cases before dealing with similar cases in proceedings supported by the National Association of Game Councils.

The first of the test cases was brought by Dublin firearms dealer Michael Walls.

Mr Walls sought orders quashing the October 2009 refusals by Chief Supt Gerard Phillips, based at Ballymun Garda station, to issue firearms certificates for seven pistols owned by him, which are considered to be restrictive firearms.

The court heard previously that Mr Walls is actively involved in shooting clubs and competitions, both nationally and internationally, for many years.

He claimed Chief Supt Phillips told him in a letter he was not satisfied that Mr Walls had shown a good reason for requiring a restricted firearm where a non-restricted firearm would not fulfil his purpose.

Mr Walls’s request for a meeting was refused and he was also not given reasons for the decision, it was claimed.

In a replying affidavit, Chief Supt Phillips said having considered Mr Walls’s application and having weighed all of the relevant considerations, he was not satisfied Mr Walls had a good reason for requiring the guns and also did not think a meeting with Mr Walls was necessary.

The chief superintendent said he also took into account other factors, including the number of gun-related crimes in his Garda division and the dangers handguns could pose to the public.

The hearing, expected to last a number of weeks, was put on hold after the judge expressed concern that a senior garda had altered a “substantial number” of application forms.

He asked the State authorities to consider whether they would stand over the Garda licensing system after hearing evidence that after the legal proceedings were initiated, forms were altered.

The judge found the evidence in two of the three test cases so far showed the recording process had not been correctly followed.

It had been admitted that a substantial number of application forms had been altered, after having been previously signed and finalised, he said.

Large sections of the official application forms, the completion of which is mandatory, had not been filled in, leading to licences being refused, the court heard.

The judge noted this was described as due to “inadvertence”, or an error, by the authorities.

The accuracy and integrity of licensing records were essential to the safe and effective operation of the scheme, Mr Justice Hedigan said.

“If the system put in place is not being followed, then both the granting and refusing process is clearly flawed.”

The matter had been adjourned to yesterday when the judge was informed of the settlement.