THE HIGH COURT
Interlocutory injunction application – Attempt to halt disciplinary procedure – Prejudgment of issues – Education Act 1998 – Compliance with departmental procedures
The plaintiff, the head-teacher of the defendant school, sought an injunction restraining the defendant from proceeding with a disciplinary procedure against her. The defendant had asked its chairman to prepare a report into major issues at the school. The chairman prepared this report at the request of the defendant, but with no input from the plaintiff. This report contained several allegations of mismanagement against the plaintiff when presented to the defendant. The defendant then decided, on the basis of the chairman’s report, to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the plaintiff.
On becoming aware of the allegations against her that had hitherto been kept secret by the defendant, the plaintiff alleged that the allegations against her had effectively been prejudged without any input from her. Moreover, she alleged that the procedure adopted by the defendant in investigating her had not been in compliance with the disciplinary procedures agreed between various stakeholders and set out in the Department of Education Circular No. 60/2009. The plaintiff alleged that, in failing to comply with this agreed procedure, the defendant had failed to comply with natural justice and that the defendant was now irreparably biased against her.
The defendant argued that the report prepared by the chairman had simply been a pre-investigation report and that, as a result, the principles of natural justice need not apply to it. It was submitted that no findings had yet been made against the plaintiff and that the board, as a whole, could not be said to be objectively biased. It was argued that the disciplinary procedure, which had yet to be invoked, would comply with the letter and spirit of Circular No. 60/2009.
Binchy J. held that, in excluding the plaintiff from the preparation of the report, and in failing to notify her immediately upon its submission to the board, the defendant had acted in breach of natural justice and the agreed departmental disciplinary procedures. The judge found that the report contained adverse conclusions as well as allegations. The court held that the case had a strong likelihood of succeeding at trial and granted an injunction restraining the disciplinary process pending plenary trial.