Tuesday, January 10, 2023

High Court Reporters

A Co Westmeath-based secondary school has returned to the High Court claiming that teacher Enoch Burke has again breached the terms of an order preventing him from attending at its premises.

In a motion brought before the court Wilson’s Hospital secondary school is seeking an order sequestering or removing Mr Burke’s assets from him, rather than seeking to re-activate the order committing the Co Mayo teacher to prison.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt was told on Tuesday by Rosemary Mallon BL for the school that, in breach of court orders made last year, Mr Burke attended at Wilson’s Hospital School premises last week when staff and students returned from the Christmas holidays.

He has returned to the school on several subsequent days, counsel added.

Hearing

Counsel said during the brief hearing that the school was not seeking an order from the court directing the gardaí to arrest Mr Burke and bring him before the court to answer the claim that he is again in contempt of court.

This is because Mr Burke is due before the court on Wednesday, January 11th in respect of his own application for an injunction preventing the school holding a disciplinary meeting concerning allegation of misconduct against Mr Burke on January 19th next.

Counsel said that the school will fully oppose Mr Burke’s motion and wants its contempt motion will be heard in conjunction with the teacher’s injunction application.

Counsel said that the school intended to serve the legal documents in relation to its latest application personally on Mr Burke.

Mr Justice Hunt said he was satisfied to grant the school permission, on an ex-parte basis, to serve short notice of the contempt proceedings on Mr Burke.

The judge said that the school’s decision not to seek an attachment order “made sense” adding that the application before the court would “get the ball rolling”.

Mr Burke, the judge said, may need time to respond to the contempt application. Mr Burke spent over 100 days in Mountjoy Prison arising out of his refusal to comply with an injunction preventing from being on the school’s campus or attempting to teach any classes while he is suspended on full pay, pending the outcome of an internal disciplinary investigation into alleged misconduct.

Court orders

He was released before Christmas. Mr Burke claims that his suspension, and the subsequent court orders obtained against him, are flawed and unlawful.

He claims that the actions brought against him stem from his opposition to transgenderism, and his refusal to adhere to a direction from the school last year to refer to a student at the school who wishes to transition as a ‘they’ and not a ‘he’.

He said to comply with the school’s direction, and indeed the court orders obtained against him, amount to a breach of his deeply held Christian beliefs, as well as his constitutional rights, including his right to freedom of religious expression.

In a ruling last month, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore ordered that Mr Burke be released from prison, stating that this was one of those “rare cases” where a coercive imprisonment should stop, for the moment, even though Mr Burke did not purge his contempt.

Similar orders had been made in other cases where persons had spent a period in prison over their failure to obey court were released without purging their contempt, the judge said.

The judge added that the school could come back to court and seek Mr Burke’s attachment and if he does not comply with the order to stay away from the school.

Mr Burke was to remain at liberty until any further court order is made imprisoning him.

The only threat to his continue freedom the judge said will arise again if he breaches any existing order of the court, the judge also said.

The school’s application is the latest round of the ongoing legal battle between the Church of Ireland school and the teacher.

Last week, Mr Burke secured permission from the court to serve short notice of the injunction application on the school where he seeks to halt the disciplinary process.

He told the court that he received a letter from the school on December 22nd last informing him that a disciplinary hearing, which had originally been fixed for last September but was put on hold following court hearings which resulted in his incarceration for contempt, will go ahead on January 19th next.

That matter is due to return before the Court on Wednesday morning before Mr Justice O’Moore, when the new legal term commences.

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