The expulsion of an Orangewoman for wearing her sash at a funeral was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.
A judge held the maximum penalty which could have been imposed on Honor Hawthorne for alleged violation of the loyal order's rules was two years’ suspension.
Mrs Hawthorne (40) sued senior representatives of the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland in a bid to win her reinstatement.
The action, which has still to be resolved, centres on her participation, along with five other women, at the funeral of a friend and fellow member in September 2005.
Mrs Hawthorne, a shop-owner from Markethill who headed up the loyal order's Armagh District No 2, disputes claims that permission was only given to wear regalia inside the church.
She contends that a subsequent disciplinary process against her was unfair.
The court heard how the family of the late Lily Boyce had asked Mrs Hawthorne for Orange involvement at her funeral.
It was claimed she sought permission and was referred up through to the most senior officials. Issues being contested at trial involve whether the Orangewomen were authorised to wear their sashes while accompanying the coffin.
During the hearing it emerged that a document setting out reasons for lodging charges against her included a reference to the event looking like a paramilitary funeral.
In her evidence Mrs Hawthorne explained how she wore special prescription glasses which darken when outside.
Barrister David Scoffield claimed it was unfair to single his client out when another senior member of her district was also present at the procession.
Following further submissions Mr Justice McCloskey said a position had been reached where he could intervene to bring finality to the dispute.
He stated: “It seems to me clearly beyond peradventure that the purported expulsion of the plaintiff... was unlawful.
“It was unlawful because it exceeded the powers available to the appropriate agency, namely in this context, a power to impose a maximum punishment of two years’ suspension.”
The judge said the court was not resolving the issue of what permission was given to Mrs Hawthorne.
With his ruling delivered, the judge requested further factual submissions to enable to a final disposal and any remedies.