Wednesday 21 August 2019

Teenager expelled for bringing a knife to school loses High Court challenge

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Stock picture
Mr Justice Noonan. Photo: Donal Doherty
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A teenage boy who was expelled for bringing a knife to school as a show of support for a fellow pupil involved in a pre-arranged fight has lost a High Court challenge against the decision.

The boy brought the knife to the fight between two other pupils, with the intention of using it if someone else showed up with a knife or weapon, the High Court heard.

He had also shown the knife to other students. The incident happened last September, within weeks of the boy entering his second year at the secondary school.

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Mr Justice Noonan. Photo: Donal Doherty

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan heard that the boy subsequently admitted his behaviour and expressed remorse for it.

The matter came to the attention of the principal on September 27, a day after the fight, which had been pre-arranged by the two other pupils on September 24.

The principal suspended the boy with immediate effect and the board of management subsequently decided to expel him. The final decision was confirmed to his mother in December.

An appeal against that decision, under Section 29 of the Education Act, was rejected by an appeals committee in February and the case subsequently went to the High Court, seeking a quashing of that decision.

The boy, suing through his mother, took the High Court action against the Department of Educaton  and appeal committee members and the school’s board of management.

Mr Justice Noonan’s judgement has been published this week.

During the course of the appeal process the applicant’s mother was, at all times, assisted by her advocate, Mr Kevin Finn, who described himself as a consulting engineer and is a representative of an entity known as the Federation of Catholic Secondary Schools Parents Associations, the judge found.

Mr Finn played a very active role and, in particular, engaged in very lengthy, voluminous and protracted correspondence raising a myriad of issues, and represented the applicant at the appeal hearing, Mr Justice Noonan added.

Among the issues raised by Mr Finn was that the chairperson of the appeal committee “by his attitude and outrageous behaviour showed a bias and prejudice towards the applicant”.

Mr Finn also complained that he did not get sufficient background information about the three appeal committee members.

He had been advised by a Department of Education official in January that two were former school principals and one was an inspector/former inspector.

One, the person who chaired the committee, had been a pupil at the schools 55 years earlier

Such appeals are normally concluded within one to two hours, the court was told, but Mr Finn’s opening statement to the hearing continued for three hours and five minutes and had not concluded when the hearing had to be adjourned. Most of his presentation was concerned with procedural issues.

The ground used by the applicant for the case before the High Court included the objectivity of the appeal committee member who had attended the school 55 years earlier and a claim that the right to fair procedures was “breached by the Department’s failure to furnish Mr Finn with the backgrounds of the members of the appeals committee”.

Mr Justice Noonan dismissed the application.

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