'stupid arguments' | 

Enoch Burke banned from courtroom after repeated clashes with judge

‘No other litigant I have ever experienced has behaved as you seek to misbehave’

Enoch Burke at the High Court this afternoon© Collins Courts

Enoch Burke© Collins Courts

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

The High Court judge hearing the trial of the dispute between Wilson’s Hospital School and Enoch Burke has told the sacked schoolteacher he will be excluded from the courtroom this afternoon due to repeated interruptions and his refusal to accept a ruling of the court.

Mr Justice Alexander Owens said it was his practice to “come down heavily on those who show disrespect” to the bench and said Mr Burke was in contempt in the face of the court.

“No other litigant I have ever experienced has behaved as you seek to misbehave,” he said.

The judge said he would have him removed if he returned to the courtroom following a break in the case for lunch.

He will be provided with facilities to watch the case remotely, but the move means he may not be able cross examine witnesses.

The judge made the order after two hours of stormy argument in the packed courtroom, where it was standing room only due to interest from members of the public and lawyers.

Enoch Burke© Collins Courts

Mr Burke raised his voice on several occasions and clashed with the judge while making allegations of fraud and tampering with discovery against members of the school’s legal team.

His claims were rejected by the judge, who said: “I would need more that the flimsy arguments I have been presented with here to reach that conclusion.

Mr Justice Owens added: “Nothing has been put before me that justifies these type of allegations.”

But the teacher refused to accept the ruling and repeatedly made the same arguments already rejected by the judge.

Mr Justice Owens repeatedly pleaded Mr Burke to sit down and stop talking.

He put his head in his hands on several occasions.

The judge told the teacher he had “wasted a day” of the four-day hearing “with stupid arguments”.

“You are making a fool of yourself,” the judge said at one point.

The row has meant the substantive hearing of the action against Mr Burke and his counterclaim against the school has yet to get underway.

Amid repeated interruptions from Mr Burke, the judge said: “What are we going to do with you? You would test the patience of Job.”

At one point, Mr Burke told the judge: “This is not a circus”.

To which the judge replied: “It has become a circus because you have made it a circus.”

The teacher, who is an evangelical Christian, was suspended from the Co Westmeath school last August after a number of incidents in which he clashed with management over a request from the then principal Niamh McShane to call a transgender student by a new name and by “they/them” pronouns.

He objected to the request on religious grounds.

The trial will centre on the conduct of the disciplinary process and whether injunctions obtained against Mr Burke were justified.

Mr Burke has filed a counterclaim against the school, alleging his suspension was procedurally flawed was unlawful. The claims are denied by the school.

He was sacked from his post as a teacher of history and German in January and is separately appealing the dismissal to a tribunal.

The teacher was accompanied in court by his siblings Ammi and Isaac and mother Martina.

At the outset, Mr Burke said he wanted to raise “an extremely serious matter” relating to discovery made to him by the school.

He claimed a 103-page document disclosed to him on March 7 had subsequently been “tampered with” when it was filed with the court.

It included an email from Ms McShane to the chairman of the board of management John Rogers on August 17 last year.

Mr Burke raised issues over the redaction of the email and how the discovered document were supplied to the court. He claimed part of the email was “surreptitiously erased”.

“You see judge, the email was tampered with,” he claimed.

The teacher also complained about the manner in which WhatsApp messages had been provided to him.

“It won’t be possible to proceed unless all these issues are dealt with,” he said on a number of occasions.

Mr Burke said he was “disgusted to the pit of his stomach” at the “egregious fraud” and “open tampering”.

The judge said he understood the point Mr Burke was making but asked the teacher to show respect to him.

“A little bit of respect now please and we will deal with it in an orderly fashion,” he said.

However, on examining the papers and hearing more, the judge said he didn’t see evidence of the fraud or tampering Mr Burke alleged.

“Ah come on judge,” Mr Burke exclaimed.

The judge quickly replied: “Don’t ‘come on’ with me Mr Burke. You will give me respect.

“I am not going to be cajoled and hectored by litigants or barristers on behalf of litigants.”

Alex White SC, for the school, said he rejected “in the strongest terms the utterly outrageous an ill- founded accusation made by Mr Burke”.

The judge said repeatedly he was not minded to halt the trial over the issue and he would leave the issue rest overnight, for the school to clarify any issues with discovery later.

Mr Burke repeatedly protested at the judge’s ruling, saying on a number of occasions the hearing could not continue.

“Mr Burke, are you listening? Have you some problem with your ears? You are not going to be entertained to make a further submission on something I have already ruled on,” the judge said at one point.

Mr Justice Owens later said: “In the old days I would have had you carted off to jail.”

He said he may make decisions Mr Burke doesn’t like, but the teacher would have to live with them.

“I don’t think it is impossible for you to proceed and I have already ruled on it,” he said.

Mr Burke responded: “You are not a law unto yourself. You cannot ram road through this case”.

The judge gave Mr Burke several warnings about his behaviour before ruling the teacher would be excluded from the courtroom.

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