John Gilligan loses European legal challenge against Cab

European Court of Human Rights rejects drug dealer’s claims over assets confiscation

Drug dealer John Gilligan and his wife and adult children have been unsuccessful in their challenge in Europe to the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) confiscating assets from them, after making 29 appeals in the Irish courts since the 1990s.

The ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), issued on Thursday, follows a 26-year legal process before the courts in Ireland as Gilligan was one of the first people targeted by Cab after it was established in 1996.

Before the Gilligans took their case against the Cab to the European court there had been seven separate originating proceedings over their assets in Ireland, over 88 separate applications, resulting in 14 reasoned judgments and a total of 29 appeals.

Gilligan and his wife Geraldine, along with their adult son Darren and daughter Treacy, brought an appeal to the ECHR effectively on the grounds that the length of time the proceedings against their assets had taken in Ireland was a breach of their human rights.


They also argued that depriving them of properties they lived in was also a breach of their human rights. However, the ECHR rejected those claims, meaning the Irish legal process against the Gilligans, in confiscating and selling assets bought with the proceeds of John Gilligan’s crimes, has been approved in Europe.

In a statement explaining the decision for its judgment, the court said the Gilligans had themselves wasted time in objecting to the process in Ireland and so had created delays.

“The court found that the applicants, through their vexatious delaying tactics, had been responsible for the overall duration of the proceedings, in what the domestic courts had found to be an abuse of process, with the applicants litigating and re-litigating the same issue over and over again. Accordingly, there had been no violation of their rights under this article,” the statement said.

It added the Irish courts had also dismissed explanations for his wealth offered by Gilligan – suggesting he had won money betting on horses and on foreign currency transactions – were “untruthful”, “incredible”, “without foundation” and “implausible”.

It added the fact the family members had been permitted to continue living in properties as the Cab continued the process of confiscating “had not been unduly prejudicial to them”, though that aspect of their challenge was deemed inadmissible.

Procedural tactics

“The court agreed with the [Irish] domestic courts that the applicants’ objectives could have been achieved in a more straightforward manner. Instead, they had wasted time with wrongheaded procedural tactics,” the statement said.

“The lengthy time until the applicants had sought relief in the correct form under the Proceeds of Crime Act, fully 12 years after the Criminal Assets Bureau’s initial action, had been down to them.”

“When they had finally sought to explain the source of the funds used to acquire the properties in question, this evidence had been emphatically rejected by the domestic courts, which had considered the first applicant to be untruthful.

"The court noted that the applicants had been responsible for several delays in the appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court judgments of 2011. The court observed that the authorities had dealt with the matter diligently and without major delays overall."

Gilligan was released from Portlaoise prison, Co Laois, almost eight years ago after serving 17 years in jail, most of that for drug trafficking and some for threatening to kill a prison officer.

Gilligan's gang killed journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996. The crime led to the establishment of the Cab.

While Gilligan was never convicted of the murder, he was put on trial for drug smuggling and received one of the longest drug-related prison sentences in the history of the State.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times