Dáil Éireann - Volume 496 - 12 November, 1998
Written Answers. - Legal Costs.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
11. Mr. O'Malley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason it was necessary for the plaintiff in the case taken against him by a company (details supplied) to lodge writs of execution with the Sheriff of the City of Dublin for execution against the goods and chattels of the Department in the sum of £538,463.54 being the legal costs and interest thereon due to the plaintiff by orders of the High and Supreme Courts in proceedings started in 1990 against him. [23121/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh) Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh)
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): The case in question dates from 1990 and concerns a decision of the Department in relation to a dispute between several meat processors and the company in question as to entitlement to rights to import beef under the GATT import quota system.
While the background of the case is legally and technically complex, the essential fact which gave rise to the legal proceedings in the first place was the decision by my Department to award the import quota rights to the meat processors rather than to the company in question. This decision, which was taken supported by legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General, was based on the Department's interpretation that, since the licences had not been transferred to the company in question in accordance with the procedure prescribed by EU regulations, that company was deemed to have acted as an agent of the processors  and the processors themselves were deemed to have imported the beef under the regulations. While the decision of my Department was made in good faith, it was, nevertheless, found to be unlawful by both the High Court and the Supreme Court.
Based on the findings that my Department had incorrectly interpreted the relevant EU regulations, the Supreme Court awarded costs against it. My Department was given leave to recover 50 per cent of the cost from the processors from the time they had joined the case. In addition, damages amounting to approximately £463,000 were awarded against my Department to the company. These damages were paid in 1991. This was appealed to the Supreme Court and that court delivered its judgment in March 1997 in favour of the company. The bill for costs was lodged with the Chief State Solicitor's Office by the company solicitors in May of this year.
I can confirm that there was no reluctance on the part of my Department to pay the costs which it was bound to pay, nor was there any delay in doing so. As the sequence of events will show, the first notification my Department received in regard to the costs was received on 28 September last from the Chief State Solicitor's Office, which handles these matters. I regret, therefore, that the company felt it necessary to try to secure payment through sheriff's orders. The facts are that my Department had made arrangements to pay these costs on the actual day the Chief State Solicitor confirmed that it was obliged to pay the costs in full. My Department had proposed to the Chief State Solicitor that, in line with the ruling of the courts, it should pay 50 per cent, with the balance being paid by the meat processors. The costs were paid on 27 October. As regards interest, negotiations were proceeding between the Chief State Solicitor and the legal representatives of the company in question, and the enforcement order issued before these were completed. The interest was paid on 30 October, the day the bill was received. Therefore, as can be seen, my Department's direct involvement in this was completed within one month.
My Department has asked the Chief State Solicitor to recover from the meat processors their share of the legal costs and interest charges in accordance with the court rulings. I understand that the Chief State Solicitor has instructed a firm of legal cost accountants to assist him in recovery of these costs in accordance with the orders of the court. I have also asked the Chief State Solicitor to pursue the question of the processors' contribution to the damages paid by my Department to the company.
In summary, therefore, both the costs and the interest were paid to the legal representatives of the company without delay well within the normal time frame for such matters and I am satisfied,  also, without the need for the involvement of the Sheriff's office.
Dáil Éireann 496 Written Answers. Legal Costs.