Why you should read the decision of Ms Justice Máire Whelan in the Enoch Burke Court of Appeal case

I wish people would actually read the decision of Ms Justice Máire Whelan in the Court of Appeal case of Wilson’s Hospital School v Enoch Burke. I think a small number would benefit.

I say a “small number” because opinions are so strongly held and entrenched by many people that no amount of reading of the facts will change anything.

Ms Justice Máire Whelan is highly critical of Enoch Burke’s conduct in the course of the legal proceedings to date, and his behaviour towards the former school principal and at the Religious Service in Chapel in Wilson’s Hospital School.

In her decision she says at paragraph 22,

22. A particular feature of Mr. Burke’s approach is the degree of verbal aggression and disrespect exhibited in his engagement particularly towards the school Principal.


His demeanour and unorthodox behaviour were very much evident in the course of the presentation of his appeal before this court. He granted himself free rein to speak disparagingly about and deploy language calculated to traduce and demean those with whose conduct or decisions he did not agree. The conduct of Mr. Burke at the religious service in the chapel was wholly disrespectful towards the school Principal and entirely inappropriate. By the standards of civilised behaviour his conduct was simply outrageous.

Points of law

She also makes some interesting legal points about the school and teachers acting “in loco parentis” to pupils in their care and the common law duties imposed on schools and teachers as to their duty of care to the pupils over which they have responsibility.

There is an interesting point, too, about the school being left open to a claim for discrimination,

18. This state of affairs arose not because of Mr Burke’s religion but because his said conduct was potentially untenable insofar as the uncertainty created by his refusal to

identify his proposed course of action presented the school with a risk of potential discrimination towards an individual student.

85. Further parents and students were entitled to expect that no individual student would be at risk of less favourable treatment than their peers, of being left vulnerable to discrimination, of not being accorded or treated equally with other students in terms of their human dignity by virtue of the potential conduct of a teacher in the school.

Unusual words

She also uses a couple of words that I have never seen before, and I read quite a lot. “Contumacious” and “contumelious” are words I have never encountered.

Here is the context: One is driven to the conclusion that he quite enjoys conflict and confrontation and the passing notoriety his wilful and contumacious contempt of court has bought him.

The appellant appears to lack all insight into the extent to which his conduct was inappropriate, undermining, intimidating, contumelious towards and demeaning of the school Principal.

There is plenty of valuable insight to the case itself in this decision and to the events that led up to where it is now, the legal issues to be decided, and the law surrounding constitutional rights, duty of care obligations, education law and managing a school in Ireland.

You can read the full decision here.