Relationship with student: High Court dismisses teacher's bid for injunction

Relationship with student: High Court dismisses teachers bid for injunction

The High Court has dismissed a teacher's bid for a permanent injunction preventing the Teaching Council of Ireland from notifying the National Vetting Bureau (NVB) of its concerns over the male teacher's relationship with a former student. 

In a lengthy judgment dismissing the action, Mr Justice Senan Allen said there was "abundant justification for the concern" raised following an investigation into the teacher's relationship with the male student, which the Teaching Council has decided that it should notify the NVB. 

There is "not now and never has been any justification for the allegation that the Teaching Council's concern is not a bona fide concern," the judge added.

The NVB is the garda unit that vets persons, in order to increase the protection of children and vulnerable persons through safer recruitment decisions.

Last year, the teacher secured a temporary injunction restraining the council from making a notification under the 2012 Vetting Bureau Act and sought to make the injunction permanent. 

The council, which opposed the application, said under the 2012 Act it is obliged to notify the bureau of its concerns arising out of an investigation into allegations and complaints of his alleged treatment of a former student of the teachers.

The proposed notification arose out of the council's investigation into the teacher following complaints of his conduct towards one of his male students, who was 19 years of age at the relevant time. The allegations related to incidents that occurred in November 2016. They included allegations that the teacher allowed the student consume alcohol while the student was alone with him, and that the teacher was under the influence of alcohol to the degree he was incapable of discharging his duties.

In November 2016, the student was found by gardaí in a distressed state on a motorway. Gardaí brought the student back to the school he attended.

At the school, the gardaí said the student became more distressed when approached by the teacher. The student told gardaí and the school's principal he had spent the evening drinking with the teacher and that the teacher had tried to remove his tracksuit bottoms and became angry when the student refused to let the teacher do this. 

Following the argument with the teacher, the student said he left the school and had tried to get to Dublin Airport so he could go home.

The student also reported that he had previously smoked something other than cigarettes with the teacher. The gardaí's assessment of what the student said was that no offence appeared to have been disclosed. 

It is also alleged the teacher sent the student messages requesting the student to retract the information he provided to the school principal and the gardaí in circumstances when the principal expressly said not to contact the student. 

Following the inquiry, the council concluded that the public interest was served by requesting the teacher not to repeat the conduct. The teacher gave such undertakings and apologised for any distress caused. 

The council did not proceed with allegations of sexual impropriety by the male teacher, which are denied, towards the student. 

In his High Court action, the teacher claimed that arising out of the investigation, the Teaching Council wanted to send a notification concerning the teacher to the NVB was flawed.

The teacher, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, claimed the Teaching Council's decision to send a notification breached his rights, was an attack on his right to earn a living and damaged his good name.   

The council was not entitled to send the notification on grounds including that the student at the centre of the allegations was 19 years of age and not a child at the relevant time. 

The Teaching Council, which regulates teaching standards in Ireland, opposed the injunction application. It claimed it had been presented with allegations encompassing sexual assault, providing drugs and alcohol to students, predatory behaviour, and emotional abuse. 

The council said it was perfectly entitled to form a view that this material triggered its obligation to notify the NVB.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Allen rejected the teacher's arguments. He said there was no delay by the council when it decided it had a concern. The teacher, the judge said, invoked his right to his professional reputation. The Judge added that the teacher "appears to be rather less solicitous" of the same right of the council's staff. 

The judge also said it was "impossible and impermissible to suggest the council set out to destroy the teacher's reputation without regard for the truth and in disregard of its duty". 

The judge said there was "never the merest scintilla of justification for the teacher's allegation that there had been misfeasance by the council". 

The contents of the 2012 Act impacts on constitutional and legal rights. The potential impact, he said, arises from the disclosure of information and not from the gathering of facts.

Rules had been put in place to ensure information gathered by the NVB will not be disclosed, except in cases where there is a genuine concern that the subject of the information may harm a child or vulnerable person. 

When the notification is made about the teacher, the judge said he will have all the safeguards contained in the 2012 Act. 

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