T.D. v The Minister for Education

CourtHigh Court
JudgeMs. Justice Bolger
Judgment Date29 July 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] IEHC 575
Docket Number[2022 476 JR]
T.D. and D.D. (A Minor Suing by his Mother and Next Friend T.D.)
The Minister for Education, M.B., J.K. and K.F., The Board of Management of a School and The Patron of a School

[2022] IEHC 575

[2022 476 JR]


Approved Judgment

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Bolger delivered on the 29th day of July, 2022


. This is an application by the parent of a four-year-old child for an order for certiorari and declaratory relief in relation to the outcome of their s. 29 appeal against the decision of the Board of Management of the sixth named respondent national school to refuse their application to enrol their child for the school year 2022–2023 in accordance with the school's admissions policy. I heard the application on 26 July last. Because it relates to a school place for the school year due to commence on 1 September and the need for all parties to have clarity in advance of that date, I have expedited delivery of my judgment. For the reasons set out below I am refusing the application.


. The school's board of management (hereinafter referred to as the Board) published its submission policy on the 29 September, 2021 in which it set out the criteria it would use to prioritise applications for enrolment where the school was oversubscribed. The policy includes criteria 1 prioritising siblings of pupils attending the school in the previous school year and criteria 2 prioritising applicants currently living within the Roman Catholic parish boundary of the town.


. The applicant, who lives in the town in the parish and close to the school, applied for a place for her child for the school year 2022/23. In February 2022 she was informed that the criteria had been applied as the school was oversubscribed and her child was not being offered a place but was placed number three on the waiting list. The applicant sought a review of that decision from the Board in which she asked for a copy of the Roman Catholic parish boundary of the town and a breakdown of the 28 applicants offered a place on the basis of how many were offered based on criteria 1 (the sibling rule) and of those how many are considered to be within the Roman Catholic parish boundary of the town. The applicant raised points about the suitability of the admission policy which she accepted before this court were outside the jurisdiction of a s. 29 appeal. The Board conducted a review and upheld their previous decision. The Board did not respond to the applicant's request for a copy of the map or information about the breakdown of the applicants who were enrolled pursuant to the sibling criteria 1.


. The applicant appealed the Board's decision refusing enrolment to the first to fourth named respondents in accordance with s. 29 of the Education Act, 1998 as amended by the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018. Her appeal made a number of points, many of which were outside the jurisdiction of the appeals committee. The applicant's Counsel contended that some of her grounds of appeal were relevant points including an issue about the lack of a clear boundary line within the parish, how the ages of successful pupils were verified, the fact she had sought a copy of the boundary map of the parish but had not received it and her request that her application be reconsidered as part of the s. 29 appeal and her child be offered a place in junior infants in 2022–2023. The board furnished the Appeals Committee with a questionnaire which identified the number of children who secured a place under criteria 1 (the siblings' rule) and criteria 2 (residence in the parish). That breakdown had not been furnished to the applicant. The appeal was considered by the Appeals Committee and by written decision dated 10 May 2022 it was refused.


. These proceedings seek to quash that decision, various related declaratory relief and an Order remitting the matter to the first to fourth named respondents with a direction to reconsider it and reach a decision in accordance with the findings of this court.


. The applicants have identified the following three issues:

  • 1. Whether the decision of the Appeals Committee has a proper evidential basis and is supported by proper reason;

  • 2. Whether the Appeals Committee applied fair procedures in reaching its decision; and

  • 3. Whether the school's admission policy is operable and effective when it does not specify the Roman Catholic parish boundary of The town, and if so, what the proper course of the Appeals Committee was.


. The respondents added a fourth issue if the applicant is found to be entitled to any of the reliefs sought, whether the court should refuse to grant such relief in exercise of its discretion on grounds of futility.

The applicant's case

. The applicants focused much of their criticism of the process followed by the Board and the decision of the Appeals Committee on the absence of a map attached to the admissions policy showing the boundaries of the town's Roman Catholic parish. Without such a map the applicant contended that the Appeals Committee could not have had an evidential basis for its decision as it could only have concluded the admission policy was correctly applied if it had the addresses of the children who were admitted ahead of the applicant's child along with a map of the parish with which to compare them. The applicant relied on the fact that the information in relation to the breakdown of children admitted under criteria 1 and criteria 2 that was furnished to the Appeals Committee by the Board was not shared with them before the decision issued and were therefore denied fair procedures. The applicant also relies on the absence of an oral hearing but did not pursue this strongly, understandably so given the statutory entitlement of the Appeals Committee to make its decision without an oral hearing.


. The applicant argued that the admission policy was not operative and effective because it did not specify where the parish boundary by reference to a map and that it was therefore incumbent on the Appeals Committee to satisfy itself that the children enrolled ahead of their child were actually resident within the boundary. She wanted the Appeals Committee decision to be quashed, and the matter remitted to a fresh Appeals Committee for examination and determination of the appeal which, she contends, could lead to the Appeals Committee directing the Board to offer their child a place or could elevate the child's position on the waiting list which she argued would be of significant benefit to them. The applicant relied on various statutory provisions in particular s. 29E(1) (as inserted by the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018) in relation to the obligation of the Appeals Committee to “examine and determine an appeal”. Heavy reliance was also placed on the dicta of Coffey J. in the Board of Management of St. Marnock's National School v. Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills and Others [2017] IEHC 683 and of Ní Raifeartaigh J. in Management of Presentation College Athenry v. Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills and Others [2017] IEHC 521. It was argued that the principle of audi alteram partem required the Appeals Committee to allow the applicant an opportunity to see and comment on information furnished by the Board to the Appeals Committee before it reached its decision.

The respondents' case

. The first and fourth respondents and the fifth and sixth respondents were separately represented but made broadly similar arguments in which they urged the court to uphold the decision of the Appeals Committee or, if necessary, exercise its discretion not to grant relief on the basis that a remittal to a fresh Appeals Committee could have no benefit for the applicant's child and would be futile. The respondent emphasised that the task of the Appeals Committee, as amended by the 2018 Act, to examine and determine the appeal and that the appeal was restricted to the grounds of appeal as identified by the applicant. Those grounds of appeal, according to the respondents, focused almost exclusively on the applicant's attempt to impugn the admissions policy which the case law on s. 29 appeals clearly confirms cannot be done as the Appeals Committee's task is to simply establish whether the Board followed the published policy correctly in processing the applications for enrolment. They rely on the decision of Ni Raifeartaigh J. in Management of Presentation College Athenry v. Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills and Others [2017] IECA 521 and the summary of the authorities set out therein. They reject the applicant's contention that the Appeals Committee should have interrogated the addresses of all children ranked ahead of the applicant's child in relation to criteria 2 (residence in the parish) and by reference to the parish map which they accepted was not furnished to the applicant or the Appeals Committee but they argue that this and the breakdown of places furnished under each of the criteria was irrelevant as the applicant knew at all times that she resided within the parish and sought to avail of that (as she was entitled to). The applicant never made it part of her appeal to the Board or the Appeals Committee that any of the successful children under criteria 2 were not resident in the parish or that the Appeals Committee should have satisfied themselves that they were so resident by interrogating their addresses by reference to a parish map. Insofar as a remittal to a new Appeals Committee was concerned, they argued that this could not benefit the applicant's child as there was no reality to the type of interrogation of addresses that the applicant sought eliciting evidence of non-compliance with the admission policy. The fourth and fifth named respondent specifically relied on...

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