Monday 20 November 2017

School principal suspended over 'very serious' complaints, court hears

The High Court, Dublin
The High Court, Dublin

Aodhan O'Faolain

A secondary school principal was suspended from her position after a number of "very serious" complaints against her, the High Court has heard.

Justine Hughes, who is the principal of Colaiste Na Mi post primary school located at the Johnstown Educational Campus, Johnstown, Navan, Co Meath, denies allegations of serious misconduct made against her. 

The co-educational school, which is run by the Louth & Meath Education Training Board (LMETB,) first opened its doors to students in 2013.

The High Court heard on Wednesday that last year eight members of current and former staff at the school made what Tom Mallon Bl for the LMETB said were "very serious" complaints about Ms Hughes in relation to child welfare and health and safety issues.

Counsel said that arising out of the complaints the LMETB commenced an investigation, which he said is to be conducted by a barrister, into the allegations.

In addition the LMETB suspended Ms Hughes last January on pay pending the outcome of the investigation. 

Colaiste na Mí crest
Colaiste na Mí crest

Last month she launched a High Court challenge against her employer's decision to hold an investigation into the allegations.

Permission to bring that action was granted by Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, who also placed a stay on the investigation until the High Court proceedings have been determined.

The case was adjourned and will return before the High Court later this year.

The case returned before Mr Justice Bernard Barton on Wednesday after Ms Hughes's lawyers brought a motion seeking to have a stay placed on a decision to reduce Ms Hughes's pay. 

After she was suspended she was diagnosed as having a psychiatric illness and was deemed by her employer to be on sick leave. The LMETB informed her that under the terms of the relevant sick leave scheme her pay is to be reduced after a certain period of time.

She now fears that her pay, while she remains on sick leave, will eventually be reduced to zero.

This would cause her and her family hardship, it was submitted. Her lawyers also told the court that she denies each and every allegation of misconduct that has been made against her.

The LMETB had opposed the application, arguing it was entitled to reduce her pay under the terms and conditions of the relevant sick leave scheme.

In his ruling Mr Justice Barton said Ms Hughes had initially been placed on what is known as administrative leave.  However she was subsequently placed on sick leave which he said was triggered as a result of her becoming ill following her suspension.

In the circumstances the judge said he had to dismiss the application to place a stay on her pay being reduced.

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