The Gist: Do not pass Go...

Enoch Burke learned Back to School wasn't an invitation that applied to him and we enjoyed some malignly unseasonable heat. This is the Gist.

The Gist: Do not pass Go...

The calendar tells us that we are now safely into Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfullness (as Keats would have it). But since the schools went back, the weather has been more likely to prompt comment on its unseasonable heat. Hardly a conversation has occured that doesn't echo the lines from later in the same poem, with people gasping under the sun Until they think warm days will never cease/ For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

First to return to his clammy cell this week was Enoch Burke. Mr. Burke, a man raised to both be wrong about everything and to believe he was always correct, demonstrated another of his social failings by turning up at the school he used to work and roaming around on its grounds.

This was both disruptive to the school's running and displayed a lack of imagination on Mr. Burke's part. This was his second academic year playing the part of the school's Uncle Jim who just doesn't know when to leave. Having ceased employment as a teacher after shouting at his boss in public he has proved unable to move on from that argument. This week he ended up in the High Court to answer an application by the school to have him jailed for breaching a previous court order to stay off their grounds.

He had previously been let out of an earlier imprisonment, without purging that contempt, so the chances of the defendant seeing sense were slim. The effort to switch the pressure from a carceral to a financial one in the interim appeared to have had no effect. He simply allowed the daily fines to accrue while he continued to show up.

The school explained that having a rando hanging about a school like a haunted hurley was foreseeably disruptive. Mr. Burke delivered one of the great own goals of litigation in response;

Mr Burke said the students "en masse" had been "enthusiastically" in support of his presence at the school, at one point "begging" him to sign their shirts and blouses and annuals as well as shaking his hand and taking photos at the end of the last school year.
He described it as a "flash mob" and said students were "desperate" for him to sign scraps of paper and even a flag.

Not disruptive at all, then.

Enoch ended up in his clammy cell, of course. But his case poses a challenge to the Court and its ability to enforce its rulings. Incarceration for contempt of court is typically a very short-lived thing. Most people don't want to spend a second night in prison when they could just step out whenever they want by complying with a court's orders.

But the Burke case is the third I know of where this presumption has been challenged. In the first, in Shell v The Rossport Five, the company encountered a group of people who were willing to remain in jail, in defence of their homes and community, as they saw it. The effect of that was to raise sympathy for the jailed men in their dispute with Shell E&P Ireland Ltd. Eventually, the company applied to the court to withdraw the injunction they had earlier obtained so the men could be released. They also paid the men's legal costs.

The message of that sequence wasn't lost on would-be protestors, but it also taught the courts about the difficulties an open-ended contempt jailing could create in politically charged circumstances. While incarcertion until the accused purges their contempt might be an easy way to let out the regretful the next day, it risks making the wilful a permanent prisoner without a full trial.

Ten years later, during the water meters protests, the High Court found that a number of protesters had breached an earlier order not to harass or interfer with water meter installations. But on that occasion, perhaps mindful of the lessons of Rossport, the judge delivered a defined sentence for the breach of 28 days.

Although Enoch Burke is surely one of the planet's most annoying people and his justification for his actions is rooted in bigotry and a profound lack of social skills, it's important to keep one eye on the how the precedent of his treatment sets the model for future responses to contempt of court. Hanging around a school you've been fired from, signing autographs when the court has told you not to isn't an appropriate activity but it also doesn't warrent an indefinite jail sentence in excess of that served by people guilty of more serious crimes.

This is particularly true in a modern age where noisy self-selective martyrdom can become a means of tapping into a dark river of funds looking to promote fringe political positions globally.

If Mr. Burke has decided to make sitting in jail and feeling righteous his full-time career, we can expect that the court will eventually move to a rolling fixed term, like the 28 days issued to the 2015 water protesters.

In an age of flexible working it seems likely that, as he is released whenever the school is closed, Enoch Burke may yet become Ireland's first prisoner on Term Time.

Hello there! Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom of the piece. As a reward, here is a link showing what going viral looked like when the web started. On the same topic, here's the story of a world when you could just email .exe files around your office and play insane games.

Why yes, it was my birthday recently and I was reminded I am very old, thank you for asking.