High Court: Order made for indefinite detention of Enoch Burke

High Court: Order made for indefinite detention of Enoch Burke

The High Court this month made an order for the indefinite detention of Enoch Burke after finding him in contempt of a court order.

Delivering an ex tempore judgment for the High Court, Mr Justice Mark Heslin noted that court orders are not an “à la carte menu” and that a party subject to an order cannot choose to ignore it, as such would constitute an insult to law-abiding citizens.


The applicant school and the respondent, Mr Enoch Burke, came before Mr Justice Heslin in the High Court following the making of an order of Mr Justice Alexander Owens made on 17 July 2023.

Mr Justice Owen’s order directed the respondent to refrain from trespassing on school grounds, and declared that his suspension pending the applicant’s final decision as to whether he should be dismissed for gross misconduct was, and continues to be, lawful.

Both the applicant and the respondent contended that Mr Burke had attended the school since it reopened after the summer break.

The order bore a penal endorsement dated 25 August 2023, which was directed towards Mr Burke, and which rendered him liable to imprisonment or sequestration to secure his compliance with the order.

The High Court

Mr Justice Heslin noted that his ruling was being given following a hearing of “at least two hours, perhaps more”, and that it was a statement of the obvious to say that “we are here because the applicant contends that the respondent is in contempt of the Court’s order”.

The court noted that the evidence, including from Mr Burke himself, made it clear that he was in breach of the order by attending the school premises. In this regard, Mr Justice Heslin pointed to paragraph 7 of Mr Burke’s affidavit which began: “After the summer holidays I returned to my workplace on Friday the 25th of August 2023, standing outside the office of Mr John Galligan, Deputy Principal.”

The evidence from the applicant described correspondence sent by its solicitors to Mr Burke, which warned him that should he fail to comply with the order of Mr Justice Owens, the application now before the court would be brought. The correspondence sought an undertaking from the respondent, but no such undertaking was forthcoming and Mr Burke continued to attend the school.

Noting that the respondent’s submissions “constituted an invitation to this Court to ignore the order made by Mr Justice Owens, to ignore the proceedings which gave rise to that order and to, instead, embark on a reconsideration of matters”, Mr Justice Heslin found that this course of action would be “simply impermissible”.

The court summarised the respondent’s submissions as levelling accusations of “lies, fraud and misrepresentation by parties” and characterising the order of Mr Justice Owens as “worthless”, remarking that in any common sense understanding of the word “contempt”, it was fair to say the respondent was showing contempt for the order.

The respondent’s submissions also accused the applicant’s solicitor of attempting to compel and mislead An Garda Síochána in order to secure an unlawful arrest of the respondent. Mr Justice Heslin commented that he wanted to make “crystal clear” that the evidence did not support such a finding, when the Court was interrupted by members of the public.

Mr Justice Heslin warned that any if there were further interruptions, he would ask a member of An Garda Síochána to remove those causing disruption.

Finding that the allegations of the respondent were “unmoored” from the evidence and did not reach the “minimum standard of credibility”, the court continued that they constituted “a very personal, and therefore unmerited attack on a professional who was doubtless acting on foot of instructions” and that basic courtesy would require an apology to be made. The court was interrupted again by the respondent and by members of the public, and the Court rose before proceeding with its ruling.

Resuming the hearing, Mr Justice Heslin noted that a vast amount of irrelevant contentions had been made by the respondent, including as to his popularity amongst the outgoing school class of 2023, which the respondent submitted were asking him to sign their shirts or to shake his hand. The court observed that “this seems to me to speak to a level of disruption within the school which of course, as a matter of logic, would not occur if the respondent obeyed the obligations resting on him per the order”.

Noting the submissions of the respondent as to the treatment by the courts of his religious freedom and Article 44 rights, Mr Justice Heslin repeated that the order of 17 July 2023 does not concern the respondent’s right to worship, and “certainly does not coerce anyone to profess something they do not believe”.

The Court continued, highlighting that “it is an insult to every law abiding citizen for someone who is the subject of a court order to decide, unilaterally, that it should be ignored and that is of no force or effect” and that a court order is not an “‘à la carte menu’”.

Mr Justice Heslin asked Mr Burke whether he would undertake to abide by the order and not to attend the school premises, to which the respondent made no response.


Quoting from the judgment of the late Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman in IRBC v Quinn [2012] IESC 51 and from Sherry v. Gunning [2014] 8 JIC 1201, the court ruled that in circumstances where the respondent remains in contempt of the order of 17 July 2023, it was appropriate to make an order for the indefinite detention of the respondent until such time as he purges his contempt, and the matter was adjourned for review at a later date. The applicant was granted its costs.

The Board of Management of Wilsons Hospital School v. Burke [2023] IEHC 528

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