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Enoch Burke banned from court hearing with school after ‘obvious contempt’ – The Irish Times


Enoch Burke has been found in contempt of court over his conduct in court on Tuesday morning as a judge was due to begin hearing a dispute between the teacher and Wilson’s Hospital School.

Mr Justice Alexander Owens directed Mr Burke will not be permitted to attend court at 2pm for the opening of the case because of his “obvious contempt” in the face of the court.

He told Mr Burke he was the “author of his own misfortune” and noted he could have imprisoned him for contempt.

The judge’s decision came after a heated and lengthy row over discovery of documents delayed the opening of the case. Mr Burke alleged documents had been “tampered with” by solicitors for the school but its counsel Alex White said it strongly rejected those claims.

Mr Justice Owens ruled there was no evidence to support the very serious claims being advanced by Mr Burke and said discovery issues could be addressed during the case and if any additional material was found to be relevant to Mr Burke, that would be provided.

He warned Mr Burke twice before 1pm that he might be held in contempt of court if he persisted with talking over the judge and counsel in a manner which prevented counsel for the school opening the case.

At one point, after more than 90 minutes and as Mr Burke continued to object, the judge said: “What are we going to do without, you test the patience of Job.” He also warned Mr Burke to “stop lecturing me” and stressed that he and not Mr Burke, was the judge in the case.

The judge, who had ruled against Mr Burke on the discovery issues after some 30 minutes, made repeated efforts up to 1pm to have the case proceed with an opening by counsel for the school.

At one point, Alex White SC, for the school, said it was clear it was Mr Burke’s intention to “torpedo” the case.

At 12.50pm, Mark Connaughton SC, for the school said the fundamental point being missed is that Mr Burke “is behaving contemptuously in the face of the court”. He said the judge was trying to help Mr Burke but Mr Burke “did not wish to be helped” and would not do anything to advance the case unless he “forces the court into submission and into doing what he wants it to do”.

If the case could not be run in line with the rulings and directions of the court, the case cannot proceed, he said. It was unfair to everyone, counsel said. He could not stand up without Mr Burke interrupting and without his brother, Isaac, making comments “sotto voce”.

Mr Burke interrupted again as counsel made those points. Mr Connaughton said Mr Burke will never allow the case to be run properly and his conduct was “unacceptable”. The court had gone out of its way to try to move the matter on but Mr Burke “won’t have anything to do with this”.

Mr Burke then continued with his arguments about discovery. The judge said he would ask Mr White to look at the document referred to in an effort to advance the situation.

When Mr Burke made further allegations about “lies”, the judge asked him not to “bandy around” such claims and said he would only get himself into difficulty if he sought to brand people as liars.

The judge noted that Mr White had said there was nothing that could possibly be relevant to Mr Burke’s case in redacted and other material complained of and the court was taking counsel at his word.

The judge said the matter could be addressed overnight and the opening of the case could get under way on Wednesday. Mr Burke said that was not acceptable and the matters he had raised must be addressed by the court.

At 1pm, Mr Connaughton said he had “zero confidence” that Mr Burke would let him open the case at 2pm.

The judge directed the case would open at 2pm in the absence of Mr Burke. When Mr Burke objected, the judge said Mr Burke had excluded himself. If he provided an assurance he would behave himself, he could be in court but he had no right to disrupt the court, he said.

When Mr Burke decided to behave himself, he would be most welcome to attend but he had brought all this upon himself, he said.

The case centres on the conduct of a disciplinary process initiated against Mr Burke last September under which he was placed on paid administrative leave. The process arose from his behaviour at a school event in June last year where he publicly voiced opposition to a request from the then school principal to address a student by their new preferred name and using the pronoun they.

When Mr Burke continued to attend at the school, it secured High Court orders in late August and September restraining him doing so and he was later imprisoned for 108 days for contempt of those orders.

His continuing contempt following his release from prison just before Christmas has led to fines of €700 daily being imposed by the High Court on him since January 27th last. He was directed to pay €23,800 in relation to those fines by March 23rd last and Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, who imposed the fines, said the school could apply to enforce payment over Mr Burke’s assets if he did not do so.

Mr Burke was served with a notice of dismissal by the school board of management on January 20th last but his appeal against that notice, which will be decided by an independent panel, has yet to be heard.

In advance of the opening of the case, Mr Burke last week served subpoenas on three Church of Ireland clerics: Most Reverend Patricia Storey, the Bishop of Meath and Kildare; Reverend Canon Alistair Graham, with an address in Mullingar, and Right Reverend Ferran Glenfield, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.

Mr Burke said in an affidavit he had served the subpoenas because the case “concerns a religious issue” and, until now, the voices of the clerics “have not been heard”.

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