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Wild Geese lawsuit against Irish Distillers dismissed

The Wild Geese’s lawsuit against Irish Distillers for alleged breach of EU competition law has been thrown out after the former was unable to pay the €1 million (US$1.05m) Security for Costs order.

Whiskey maturing in Irish Distillers’ warehouse

Avalon International, which has the exclusive sales and marketing rights for The Wild Geese Irish Whiskey, and Protégé, the exclusive sales agent for Avalon in the EU, are behind the legal action.

In 2018, Protégé International and Avalon International began legal proceedings in the High Court, claiming Irish Distillers had unlawfully refused to supply its brand with Irish whiskey over several years.

Protégé accused Pernod Ricard’s Ireland unit of supplying certain independent Irish whiskey brands with third-party liquid while refusing The Wild Geese ‘without objective justification’.

Protégé claimed Irish Distillers had made ‘various excuses’ for not providing the brand with whiskey. Protégé also alleged Irish Distillers had claimed it has no availability of mature whiskey, despite entering into new long-term mature whiskey and new-fill supply agreements with other parties in 2016.

As part of the dispute, Irish Distillers was successfully granted an Order for Security of Costs (SOC) of €1m against Protégé and Avalon, after insisting it had demonstrated a ‘substantive defence to the claims’.

The SOC was granted in May 2019 by the High Court and was confirmed on appeal by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in April 2021, the Jameson producer said.

Irish Distillers said in a statement: “Irish law allows for such security to be ordered in unusual circumstances where the plaintiff fails to demonstrate sufficient financial strength to be able to meet the defendant’s legal costs should it successfully defend its case.”

‘Barrier to justice’

The Wild Geese said in a statement that the SOC order “creates an insurmountable barrier to justice for most companies”.

The statement continued: “The Supreme Court set a very low bar for the imposition of SOC’s orders of a ‘bare denial’; enabling large companies to obtain punitive Security of Costs orders against smaller players without even the need to present a defence, merely to deny the charges and claim they have one.”

After no payment was made by the end of October 2021, Irish Distillers sought a deadline for the fee with the High Court setting the end of May 2022 as the deadline.

On 15 June 2022, Protégé and Avalon advised the High Court that they could not pay the amount. Irish Distillers therefore applied for the proceedings to be struck out, which was granted by the High Court.

The Irish Distillers statement continued: “A diverse and dynamic Irish whiskey category, which enjoys growth globally is a positive development for our industry overall. We both welcome and foster the emergence of new players in the sector.

“However, Irish Distillers will always defend itself against claims about how we conduct our business which are wrong or mischaracterised.”

Protégé said the Irish Court decision ‘signals to companies such as Wild Geese that they should abandon attempts to seek legal redress in Ireland against dominant companies’.

André Levy, chairman of The Wild Geese, said: “The Irish judicial system is fundamentally biased. The Wild Geese may have lost this round, but the matter is far from finished.”

Pernod Ricard is the owner of the world’s biggest Irish whiskey brand, Jameson, which sold 9.6m nine-litre cases in 2021. It was named this year’s World Whisky Brand Champion in The Spirits Business‘ Brand Champions 2022 report.

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