Dispute over reducing assets below €2.3m goes to Commercial Court
Posted on 22nd November 2021 at 21:27
A dispute between the Revenue and a businessman over a High Court order preventing him from reducing his assets below €2.3 million has been admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list.
Paul Howard, a builder and landlord, of Larkfield Avenue, Harolds Cross, Dublin, opposed Revenue’s application for entry of the case to the commercial list.
It followed an interim order made earlier this month by the High Court freezing his assets below €2.3m which he owes in taxes and interest.
Mr Howard, in an affidavit, said he was resisting entry of the case to the commercial list because the solicitors for Revenue, Ivor Fitzpatrick and Co, was maintaining the action for a share of the profits in any finding against him by the court and therefore does not have an independent interest in the matter.
This arrangement, he said, amounts to a contingency fee which he says is champertous – a form of maintenance where financial support is provided by a party with no connection to a dispute in exchange for a share in any proceeds from litigation or some other profit.
Mr Howard also said he was bringing separate judicial review proceedings over the Tax Appeals Commissioner’s refusal to state a case for determination by the High Court on a point of law arising out of the commissioner’s finding that he owed some €1.2 million together with statutory interest of €1.1 million for the years 2002 to 2014.
Tim Dixon, for Mr Howard, said one of the grounds for the judicial review was that Revenue effectively disagreed with Mr Howard’s submissions and accepted the Tax Appeals Commissioner’s submissions without scrutiny.
It was also their case that the arrangement with the Revenue solicitor’s was champertous, he said.
John Donnelly SC, for the Revenue, said the amount of tax liability in this case meets the threshold for admission to the commercial list.
Counsel denied the arrangement between the Revenue and its solicitors was champertous. It was not a contingency fee that would be paid but a conditional fee, similar to “no foal no fee” arrangements which are legal and common in Ireland (where fees are only paid if a client wins).
Mr Justice Denis McDonald said he was satisfied the case had a significant commercial aspect. The application for entry to the commercial list was properly certified by the solicitor for Revenue and that was sufficient for it to be admitted to the list, he said.
He was not making any ruling as to whether the arrangement was champertous but whether it was or not may have implications in relation to the awarding of costs in these proceedings when finally determined.
He said the case can come back to court next month.
Revenue, in seeking the freezing order over Mr Howard’s assets, claimed the manner in which he had been allegedly dissipating assets recently is “suggestive of efforts to avoid any enforcement attempt by Revenue”.
Three or four of his properties were sold in the run-up to the Tax Appeal Commissioner’s appeal, while a further four properties are currently listed for sale, it was claimed.
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