Thursday, January 12, 2023

High Court reporters

A war of words erupted at the High Court on Wednesday between Enoch Burke, members of his family and the judge hearing the controversial teacher’s application for orders preventing his employer from continuing its disciplinary process against him.

Mr Burke, who is seeking an injunction preventing the school from proceeding with a disciplinary process that could result in his dismissal, his sister Ammi and mother Martina strongly criticised Mr Justice Conor Dignam after the judge said shortly before 4pm — the usual time courts conclude their business — that he was rising for the day and would resume on Thursday morning.

The Burkes became animated after Mr Burke expressed his concern that the court was not going to sit on to hear his case.

He said his application was urgent, and that the court was rising for the day when he was making submissions on what he claims is a crucial piece of evidence on which the entire application turned.

Mr Burke, who claims that the disciplinary process against him is procedurally flawed, claims that a lie was allegedly told in a statement sworn on behalf of the school by the chairman of its board of directors, John Rogers.

He said that in the statement, Mr Rogers said that a report compiled by the school’s former principal about allegations against the German and history teacher was put before but not discussed by the board at its meeting in August.

Mr Burke said that this contradicts minutes of a meeting attended by Mr Burke, where Mr Rogers is alleged to have said that the contents of the report were discussed by the board.

He contends this amounts to “a lie” and expressed his concern that the judge would rise at what the teacher said was a critical juncture of the hearing.

Heated exchange

In what was a heated exchange, Mr Burke’s sister Ammi — who is assisting her brother in the proceedings — and their mother Martina also voiced their criticisms of the judge and asked him repeatedly “what were the consequences to lying on oath”.

Mrs Burke also accused the judge of “running off” to seek the advice of a judicial colleague.

Mr Justice Dignam rejected the Burkes’ criticism and reminded the court that only Enoch Burke had a right of audience.

He said that he would not make any findings at this stage of the hearings on the allegation against Mr Rogers.

It was the court’s role to hear both sides on disputes before making any findings in this or any other application.

The judge also said he was refusing to answer questions put to him by the Burkes, but did accept as a general principle that a lie to a court was a serious matter.

The judge said he accepted the urgency of the matter and was prepared to recommence the hearing at 9.30am, earlier than the usual start time, to allow Mr Burke to finish his submissions and then hear the school’s side of the case.

Mr Burke, who spent over 100 days in prison for being in contempt of a court order made in September which required him to stay away and not attempt to teach at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath, is challenging the disciplinary process which resulted in him being suspended for alleged gross misconduct on full pay last August.

He claims the process is flawed, unlawful and that his suspension breaches his constitutional rights, including his rights to freedom of religion.

He says that the suspension relates to his religious opposition to transgenderism, after being told by the school to refer to a student at the school who wishes to transition by “a different name or “they.”

Opposed application

The school, represented by Rosemary Mallon BL, opposes the application and says the disciplinary meeting due to take place in a Co Westmeath Hotel should be allowed to proceed as planned.

In his submissions to the court, Mr Burke said the disciplinary process, which stems from allegations that he voiced his opposition to the school’s request regarding the student to the school’s then principal Niamh McShane in a very public manner at a school function before staff, students and parents held last May.

He claims the disciplinary process is flawed as it allegedly ignores his constitutional rights to freedom of religion.

Other grounds raised by him include that his previous unblemished record as a teacher and good name were not taken into account when the decision was made to suspend him.

Mr Burke read citations given to him by the school and former pupils for his teaching.

He says the allegations against him do not amount to misconduct let alone gross misconduct.

He also claims the disciplinary process has breached his rights to fair procedures and natural justice on grounds including that the matter, which could result in his dismissal, has also been predetermined.

The school’s case will be given before the court on Thursday.

Breach of court order

A separate application brought by the Wilson Hospital’s school, arising out of Mr Burke’s refusal to comply with a court order to stay away from the school while he is suspended has been adjourned to next week.

Wilson’s Hospital has applied for an order for the court to sequestering or remove Mr Burke’s assets from him, due to his alleged ongoing contempt of a High Court order granted in September.

That order prevents Mr Burke from attending at or attempting to teach at the school while he is under suspension.

The court heard that Mr Burke attended at the school after it returned from the Christmas holidays on January 5th.

The school seeks fresh orders in relation to Mr Burke’s assets rather than seeking to re-activate the order committing the Co Mayo teacher to prison.

When the matter was mentioned before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore on Wednesday, the court was told there were some technical issues with the motion, which were being corrected.

The judge, after Mr Burke accepted that he was not complying with the order, said he was adjourning that application to next Tuesday’s sitting of the court.

Mr Burke spent over 100 days in Mountjoy Prison arising out of his refusal to comply with the order to stay away from the school. He was released before Christmas, without purging his contempt.

In a ruling last month, Mr Justice 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.

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 remain away from the school.

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