Sheehy v Board of Management of Killaloe Convent Primary School

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMs. Justice Ní
Judgment Date09 May 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] IEHC 456
Date09 May 2019
Docket Number[Record No. 2018/169 JR]

[2019] IEHC 456

THE HIGH COURT

JUDICIAL REVIEW

Ní Raifeartaigh J.

[Record No. 2018/169 JR]

BETWEEN
MAIRE SHEEHY
APPLICANT
AND
BOARD OF MANAGEMENT OF KILLALOE CONVENT PRIMARY SCHOOL
RESPONDENT

Judicial review – Unitary process – Flawed conclusion – Applicant seeking to quash decisions of the respondent – Whether the process leading to the decisions was flawed

Facts: The applicant, Ms Sheehy, sought to quash decisions of the respondent, the Board of Management of Killaloe Convent Primary School, which resulted from her being demoted from her position as principal. She alleged that the process leading to the decision was flawed in multiple respects and that it was tainted by prejudgment and bias against her. The Board of Management made a finding following an oral hearing that she had “emotionally abused” a young child on two occasions by requiring the child, by way of punishment, to kneel on the floor in her office and to sit on the floor in a classroom respectively. The applicant had strenuously denied the allegations and said that she had neither sought to punish the child nor asked her to kneel on the floor. The Board of Management originally imposed a sanction of dismissal but, following an appeal to a Disciplinary Appeal Panel (DAP), imposed a sanction of demotion from principal teacher to the position of ordinary teacher upon the recommendation of the DAP. The applicant maintained that there were multiple flaws in the Board’s process and that fundamentally what happened was that a relatively minor allegation concerning her treatment of a child some years previously was raised in the context of a more general industrial relations problem concerning her behaviour towards staff and was escalated in a highly unfair, biased and unreasonable manner to the point where a flawed conclusion was reached that she had emotionally abused a child.

Held by the High Court (Ní Raifeartaigh J) that the applicant was not entitled to rely on alleged flaws in the Board process when she subsequently had the benefit of a full hearing before the DAP in respect of which she made no complaint whatsoever. Ní Raifeartaigh J found that if the process is a unitary one for the purpose of the time limit (as argued for on behalf of the applicant), it must surely follow that it is the process as a whole which should be reviewed by the Court. Ní Raifeartaigh J held that the applicant, in order to succeed on the substantive issues, would have to demonstrate flaws other than the type of flaw complained of in this case.

Ní Raifeartaigh J held that the above conclusion was sufficient to dispose of the applicant’s judicial review on the merits.

Reliefs refused.

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Ní Raifeartaigh delivered on the 9th day of May, 2019
Nature of the case
1

This is a case in which the applicant seeks to quash decisions of the Board of Management of a primary school which resulted from her being demoted from her position as principal. She alleges that the process leading to the decision was flawed in multiple respects and that it was tainted by prejudgment and bias against her. The Board of Management made a finding following an oral hearing that she had ‘emotionally abused’ a young child on two occasions by requiring the child, by way of punishment, to kneel on the floor in her office and to sit on the floor in a classroom respectively. The applicant had strenuously denied the allegations and said that she had neither sought to punish the child nor asked her to kneel on the floor. The Board of Management originally imposed a sanction of dismissal but, following an appeal to a Disciplinary Appeal Panel (a ‘DAP’), imposed a sanction of demotion from principal teacher to the position of ordinary teacher upon the recommendation of the DAP. The applicant maintains that there were multiple flaws in the Board's process and that fundamentally what happened was that a relatively minor allegation concerning her treatment of a child some years previously was raised in the context of a more general industrial relations problem concerning her behaviour towards staff and was escalated in a highly unfair, biased and unreasonable manner to the point where a flawed conclusion was reached that she had emotionally abused a child. A significant feature of the case is that no complaint is made about any aspect of the appeal before the Disciplinary Appeal Tribunal. Another is that the Board of Management accepted the recommendation of the DAP to reduce the sanction from dismissal to demotion.

Relevant Legal Materials

Circular 60/2009 of the Department of Education and Science

2

Circular 60/2009 contains the revised procedures for the suspension and dismissal of principals and is issued pursuant to s. 24(3) of the Education Act 1998. The opening section of the Circular sets out a number of general principles underpinning the procedures. These include the following, which reflect familiar principles of fair procedures, including the giving of adequate notice of allegations and the right to challenge evidence. It provides:-

‘that there will be a presumption of innocence. No decision regarding disciplinary action can be made until a formal disciplinary meeting has been convened and the employee has been afforded the opportunity to respond to the allegations raised

that the employee will be advised in writing in advance of a disciplinary meeting of the precise nature of the matters concerned and will be given copies of all relevant documentation. In the case of a complaint, this detail will include the source and text of the complaint as received. A complaint should be in writing

that details of the allegations, complaints or issues of professional

competence be put to the Principal concerned

that the right of a Principal concerned to have access to and to view his/her personnel file (to include all records in relation to the Principal in hardcopy or electronic format, held by the school) will be fully respected

that the Principal concerned be given the opportunity to respond fully to any such allegations, complaints or issues of professional competence

that the Principal concerned is given the opportunity to avail of representation by a work colleague or trade union representative/s

that the Principal concerned has the right to examine and challenge all evidence available and to call witnesses or persons providing such evidence for questioning

that the Principal concerned has the right to a fair and impartial examination of the issues being investigated, taking into account the allegations or complaints themselves, the response of the Principal concerned to them, any representations made by or on behalf of the Principal concerned and any other relevant or appropriate evidence, factors or circumstances

that the Board of Management, as employer, has a duty to act reasonably and fairly in all interactions with staff and to deal with issues relating to conduct or professional competence in a confidential manner which protects the dignity of the Principal

that all matters relating to the disciplinary procedure are strictly confidential to the parties and their representatives

that it will be considered a disciplinary offence for any person to intimidate

that where a decision is taken to impose a disciplinary sanction, the sanction imposed will be in proportion to the nature of the conduct/behaviour/performance that has resulted in the sanction being imposed

that these procedures are without prejudice to the right of a Principal to have recourse to the law to protect his/her employment’.

3

A clear distinction is drawn in the document between issues relating to the professional competence of principal teachers, on the one hand, and disciplinary matters, on the other. The first part of the document deals with procedures relating to the former and sets out five stages consisting of an informal stage, the initiation of a formal process, an external review, a hearing, and an appeal. The second part of the document deals with disciplinary procedures and makes it clear that issues of professional competence as a teacher are outside the scope of this procedure and should be dealt with under the first part of the document. It also says that allegations in respect of child abuse as defined in the Child Protection Guidelines should be dealt with in the first instance under those Guidelines. It then goes on to set out a number of stages in the disciplinary procedure, including an informal stage, stage 1 (verbal warning), stage 2 (written warning), stage 3 (final written warning) and stage 4.

4

Regarding Stage 4, it says: -

‘If it is perceived that the poor work or conduct has continued after the final written warning has issued or the work or conduct issue is of a serious nature a comprehensive report on the facts of the case will be prepared by the Chairperson and forwarded to the Board of Management. A copy will be given to the Principal.’ (emphasis added)

It then says that the Board of Management will consider the matter and seek the views of the principal in writing. It shall afford the Principal an opportunity to make a formal presentation of his/her case. It provides for at least ten days” written notice of the meeting and that the purpose of the meeting should be stated as well as the specific nature of the complaint, and that any supporting documentation will be furnished to the principal. The principal is entitled to be accompanied by her Trade Union representative or a colleague. She is entitled to have an opportunity to respond and to state her case fully and challenge any evidence that is being relied upon for a decision and be given an opportunity to respond. It then sets out a range of sanctions which consist of the following: deferral of an increment, withdrawal of an increment or increments, demotion, other disciplinary action short of suspension or dismissal, suspension with pay, suspension without...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 cases
  • Emer Lally v Board of Management of Rosmini Community School
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 4 October 2021
    ...almost certain to be quashed.” The school also relied on the judgment of Ní Raifeartaigh J. in Sheehy v. Killaloe Convent Primary School [2019] IEHC 456 which is to similar effect, although I note that the proceedings in that case were taken by way of judicial review and some of the observa......
  • C.D. v The Board of Management of a National School
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 4 December 2019
    ...which was a “unitary process” as described by Ní Raifeartaigh J. in Sheehy v. Board of Management of Killaloe Convent Primary School [2019] IEHC 456. While counsel accepted that the respondent might have given more fulsome reasons for the dismissal than it had done in its letter dated 16th ......
  • O'Grady v Health Service Executive
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 18 December 2019
    ...situation prevailed in State (Byrne) v Frawley [1978] IR 326. 71 In Sheehy v. Board of Management of Killaloe Convent Primary School [2019] IEHC 456, the Court was satisfied that the disciplinary process for teachers was such that the stage four disciplinary process was a unitary process wh......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT