Jailed schoolteacher Enoch Burke is set to be freed after the High Court ordered his release from Mounjoy prison today. The court admitted that continuing to keep Mr Burke locked up was not achieving its purpose as he was “prepared to endure the undoubted discomforts of being imprisoned to obtain some greater benefit, as they see it”.
The ruling was issued this evening by Mr Justice Brian O’Moore after a hearing earlier today. The judge said that the only threat to the teacher’s continued freedom would be if he breached a High Court order.
The decision signals the end of Enoch Burke’s imprisonment in early September. Burke, a Christian, was jailed after breaching a high court injunction ordering him to stay away from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath after he was embroiled in a row over a request from a student to be addressed as non-binary, using a new name and the pronouns ‘they/them’.
The History and German teacher was suspended on full pay by the school as part of a disciplinary process. The court went on to grant the injunctions after Mr Burke continued to attend the school despite his suspension.
The teacher has consistently refused to agree to stay away from the school if he is released.
This morning, the High Court listed the matter to determine if Mr Burke could be released from prison as the school will be closed over Christmas. However, Mr Burke told the judge he could not participate in the process to be allowed to leave prison for Christmas because doing so would mean agreeing on his part that he was lawfully incarcerated, arguing the very basis for his almost four month imprisonment was wholly invalid.
Mr Burke said the principal of the school where he is employed expected he would accept transgender ideology which was something in conflict with his conscience and religious beliefs, and everything that had happened since was in response to that demand.
Mr Burke said he did not want temporary release, but wanted a just upholding of constitutional rights.
Lawyers representing the school said their only concern was to prevent disruption to their pupils. The school’s Barrister Rosemary Mallon said she would not have concerns during the Christmas break, but that their concern was what would happen when the schools reopen on 5 January.
She said there would need to be a mechanism so that there would be no further disruption. While being questioned by Judge O’Moore, she said that in light of the concerns relating to 5 January, she could only ask that the teacher remain incarcerated.
She said Wilson’s Hospital School had not recommenced the disciplinary process against Mr Burke because of the ongoing legal proceedings.
Mr Justice O’Moore said that it was “intolerable” that taxpayers were footing the bill for Mr Burke’s salary along with the costs of his incarceration, and that it was hard not to come to the conclusion that Mr Burke was exploiting his imprisonment in Mountjoy for his own ends.
He said the only plausible interpretation of Mr Burke’s actions was that he saw some advantage in his continuing imprisonment. The judge said this is why he resisted an early trial which could have set him free, and why he rejected the proposal of the high court which could have led to his release.
The purpose of jailing Enoch “was turned on its head when the person concerned is prepared to endure the undoubted discomforts of being imprisoned to obtain some greater benefit, as they see it,” the judge said.
“The only plausible interpretation of Burke’s actions is that he sees some advantage in his continuing imprisonment, otherwise he would have either avoided his jailing or taken the opportunity to bring it to an end.”
For this reason, he said Mr Burke’s release should be open-ended and not just for Christmas.
The court said that they would not enable someone found to be in contempt of court to gain some form of advantage from Mr Burke’s “defiance”.
Mr Justice O’Moore added that other measures, including financial sanctions, could be imposed on someone in contempt of court.
He also said the school could come back to court to seek Mr Burke’s arrest and committal to prison again, as well as the sequestration of his assets or any other suitable measure if he did not comply with the court order. He added that the teacher had refused to purge his contempt, despite being given the opportunity to do so.
In relation to his religious convictions, the judge argued that complying with the court’s orders did not in any form compromise Mr Burke’s religious beliefs or require him to do anything in violation of his beliefs – though the teacher’s supporters have argued the opposite.
The judge said that releasing the teacher at long last was not a ‘Christmas gift’ as Mr Burke had suggested. He stated that it was open to the court at any time to review a new coercive order, and that a factor that must be taken into account is what useful purpose is to be served by keeping the teacher in jail.
The judge also said the teacher’s continued imprisonment was not necessary right now – certainly not over the Christmas period.
He added that he felt that Mr Burke’s reaction towards his potential release was ‘surprising’ – as he had not only refused to support the idea but had ‘actively disparaged’ the proposal for release.
He said Mr Burke has said he only wished to leave jail on his own terms – in other terms, that he is vindicated by the court of appeal and leaves jail “justified” in his cause.
Mr Justice O’Moore also described a “complete standoff” between Enoch Burke and the school. The school had paused the disciplinary process against Burke, while he was on full pay and was likely to remain on it for the foreseeable as the school did not indicate a possibility of reactivating the process.
In the meantime, he said the teacher was refusing to purge his contempt, and if the Court of Appeal did not rule in his favour, it was possible Mr Burke would request the Supreme Court to intervene.
The teacher’s shock release comes just one day after a protest took place outside the school yesterday calling for Burke to be released straight away.
One protestor described the possible implications of Burke’s case as “huge” saying that “a lot of people don’t realise that in five years time the prison is going to be full of Enoch Burke’s owing to the fact a lot of people are not going to go along with what they believe is fantasy”.