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Employment law Unfair procedures – Breach of contractual terms

Employment law Unfair procedures – Breach of contractual terms

By Denis Ryan
Tuesday, 25th April 2017

Employment law - Unfair procedures – Breach of contractual terms – Fair procedures – Appellant seeking an order restraining the respondent from continuing with a disciplinary process – Whether it was sufficiently clear that the disciplinary process had gone irremediably wrong  

Facts: The plaintiff/appellant, Mr Rowland, was engaged by the defendant/respondent, An Post, as a sub-postmaster in the village of Bofeenaun, Ballina in County Mayo. In 2008 a process commenced as a result of which Mr Rowland was asked to respond to various issues raised by An Post. It was asserted on behalf of Mr Rowland that the procedures being followed by An Post were unfair and in breach of his contractual terms. Proceedings were commenced and interim and interlocutory injunctions sought and obtained. The matter came on for plenary hearing before Murphy J in the High Court in March, 2011 and on the 26th July the trial judge dismissed Mr Rowland’s claim. The principal conclusion reached was that the relevant process was still at an investigative stage and that, in that context, there had been no breach of fair procedures. Mr Rowland appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. An application was brought before the Supreme Court seeking an order restraining An Post from continuing with the process pending a determination of the appeal. In the context of the hearing of that application an undertaking was given on behalf of An Post that the process would continue in full compliance with the rules of constitutional justice. In those circumstances the Supreme Court did not grant the injunction sought and the process continued. Separate proceedings were commenced in the High Court in which it was asserted that the termination of the relevant contract was unlawful and various reliefs were sought. A question was raised by the Supreme Court at the hearing of the appeal as to what, of substance, remained for decision on the appeal. That question arose from the fact that the focus of the proceedings had been to prevent the process from going any further. The order sought was an injunction directed to that end. Mr Rowland suggested that, if the Supreme Court were persuaded that the trial judge was wrong in his conclusions, it would be open to the Court to make an appropriate form of declaratory order which might, potentially, have an effect on the second proceedings. Counsel expressed a concern that, as long as the judgment of the trial judge in the case remained in place, aspects of the argument which Mr Rowland might wish to put forward in the second proceedings might be precluded. The focus of the appeal was as to whether it would be appropriate for the Supreme Court to make some form of declaration concerning the process and, as part of the analysis which might lead to a determination of whether it would be so appropriate, an issue arose as to the extent to which the findings of the High Court in the case might bind the High Court in deciding the second proceedings. 
Held by Clarke J that he was satisfied that the trial judge was correct to hold that the point had not been reached when it could be said that it was sufficiently clear, for the purposes of the established jurisprudence, that the disciplinary process in the case had gone irremediably wrong so as to warrant that a court should intervene by way of an injunction to halt the process. Clarke J held that the trial judge’s ultimate conclusion was correct and that the appeal must be dismissed. Appeal dismissed. 
Rowland, Thomas v An Post 
27/03/2017 No. 462/2011 [2017] IESC 20