Why judge stripped drug dealer’s guilty plea
CAIRNS' top judge has stripped the guilty plea of a high-profile drug dealer, labelling the incompetence of his former lawyers as "extraordinary".
Ryan Hill is accused of being the key figure in a major operation peddling drugs across the city for two years and pleaded guilty to trafficking drugs as part of an organised crime syndicate in February - a new charge which carries a mandatory seven years on top of a standard trafficking sentence.
But while the 26-year-old has admitted guilt to trafficking, he claimed he never understood the mandatory seven years due to inept legal advice.
The Cairns Supreme Court heard yesterday his former solicitor Andrew Stewart, who represented Mr Hill for almost two years, lost crucial files while moving office, failed to take notes in important meetings with his client and has no memory of key moments during the case.
His former barrister Robert Glenday also said he told Mr Hill on the morning before his plea that the evidence against him was an "overwhelmingly strong Crown case".
Justice Jim Henry said it was clear Mr Hill "plainly wasn't properly advised".
"His own (former) lawyers recognised the argument there was a case to be run.
"Seven years on top without even being told how he might get out of it. Extraordinary.
"With consequential inconvenience to the police, prosecution, the public purse, the court and, last but not least, Ryan Henry Hill."
During the three-day pre-trial hearing it emerged Mr Hill was originally represented by Cairns-based solicitor Steven O'Reilly, but found him too pricey so switched to Sydney-based Mr Stewart on the advice of an alleged co-offender.
Mr Ryan claimed during the hearing he did not understand when he pleaded guilty that he would not be receiving any discount to his sentence due to his attempts to assist the police investigation.
Three of his co-offenders did not have to serve the seven years after providing police statements, but the court heard Mr Hill's police interview and a subsequent statement were not accepted as they did not contain enough detail.
Mr Stewart said he "would" have told Mr Hill his interviews were not accepted, but could not say when that occurred.
He also conceded he failed to forward a large section of evidence to the legal representatives who took over the case in February.
"I recently moved offices and they would have got mixed up," he said.
The case will return to court on June 18-19.
Originally published as 'Extraordinary': Why Cairns judge stripped drug dealer's guilty plea