Senior civil servant challenges 'unlawful suspension' over bullying allegations

Department of Justice's head of human resources claims that at the beginning of March she was informed she was required to go on paid leave pending an investigation into certain allegations made against her by members of her team
Senior civil servant challenges 'unlawful suspension' over bullying allegations

Complainant has only been given vague details of the allegations against her, including that she allegedly shouted, belittled, demeaned, and lost her temper with other staff members at the department, court heard. Picture: Collins Courts

A senior civil servant at the Department of Justice has launched a High Court challenge aimed at overturning what she claims is her unlawful suspension from work.

The action has been taken by the Department of Justice's head of human resources Roisin Down, who the court heard has been out of work since March pending an independent investigation into bullying allegations made against her by members of her team.

She denies all the allegations against her.

The court heard the department does not accept that Ms Down has been suspended but rather has been put on paid leave and informed her there was "no case to answer at this juncture."

In her action, Ms Down, who challenges the power to suspend her, claims that at the beginning of March she was informed she was required to go on paid leave pending an investigation into certain allegations made against her by members of her team.

She was also informed her access to the department's IT systems was being revoked with immediate effect.

She was further informed the investigation could result in disciplinary hearings being brought against her.

She has made repeated requests to be allowed return to work, and has confirmed she will cooperate with the investigation.

However, she claims that despite her requests, she has not been reinstated to her duties, and that the basis of the power to suspend her has not been identified by either the minister or the department.

In her judicial review action, she claims the purported decision to suspend her, which she says was taken by a deputy secretary-general at the department Oonagh Buckley, is unlawful.

Ms Down claims the official in question lacked the power to suspend her under either the 1956 Civil Service Regulation Act or Civil Service Disciplinary Code.

She also claims the decision to suspend her has had and continues to have a very damaging effect on her career and reputation.

In a sworn statement to the court, Ms Down says she has not been given the specifics of the allegations or who on her team made them.

She says she was very surprised and upset at the decision to place her on leave.

She has only been given vague details of the allegations against her, including that she allegedly shouted, belittled, demeaned, and lost her temper with other staff members at the department.

She denies all allegations of wrongdoing against her.

As well as challenging the decision to suspend her, she also has concerns over the way the investigation is being conducted, it is claimed.

She also rejects the respondent's assertion that she has not been suspended but has merely been placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Ms Down, represented by Darach McNamara Bl instructed by Sean Costello solicitors, who has brought judicial review proceedings against the minister for justice and Ms Buckley, seeks an order quashing the decision to suspend her. 

The matter came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan during Monday's sitting of the High Court.

The judge granted Ms Down's lawyers permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring the challenge.

The matter will come back before the court in October.

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