Jon Platt Faces Defeat Over Term-Time Fines Court Battle


The Law Of…term-time holiday fines 

Parents cannot take their children out of school and on holiday during term-time, according to the Supreme Court's ruling over the ongoing dispute between Jon Platt and his local education authority.

Patrick Campbell, Solicitor and Mediator in our Criminal Defences team, explains what this now means for parents who had previously wished to take their children out of school during term time.

A Costly Family Getaway

When Jon Platt booked a holiday for his 6-year-old daughter during school term time in 2015, he did not expect that he would end up involved in a case that would have a landmark ruling at the Supreme Court.

Strict regulations were previously introduced in 2013 to deter parents from taking their children on holiday during the school term. Along with the regulations came a fixed penalty of £60, which if unpaid would double within 21 days and eventually lead to court action.

Breaking The Rules?

Mr Platt’s local authority – the Isle of Wight Council – claimed he had failed to secure his daughter's regular attendance at school and he was first issued with a fine.

After he refused to pay it, he was prosecuted under the Education Act of 1996 for failing to secure regular attendance. But his lawyers successfully argued that he was able to prove that his daughter had regular attendance, which her school had identified as 92.3%, and the case was thrown out.

The Isle of Wight Council then asked the High Court to clarify what was deemed as regular and it again the Court ruled in Mr Platt's favour, stating that the lower court was right to take into account the wider picture of his daughter's regular attendance record. Unhappy with this outcome, the Council – with the support of the Department for Education – made an appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that a child's overall attendance is not relevant.

At the centre of the dispute considered by the Supreme Court was the meaning of the words "fails to attend regularly, which are contained within section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The Court found that "regularly" meant "in accordance with the attendance rules", and not "sufficiently often" or "evenly spaced."

The Court ruled that parents cannot take their children on holiday during the term, and Mr Platt's case will now return to the Isle of Wight Magistrates Court.

Lady Hale, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said whilst delivering the ruling:

"Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils."

"If a pupil can be taken out whenever suits the parent, then so can others…Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves."

Hundreds Of Prosecutions

Local authorities have handed out numerous costly fines to parents over their children's unauthorised absences since 2013, which unsurprisingly has led to an increase in the number of complaints made by families over the charges.

Statistics show the following:

  • A Freedom of Information request made by Simpson Millar last year, and reissued this year, shows that in 2015 – 2016 around 147,655 educational penalty notices were given to parents in the UK, which resulted in £8,859,300 in fines being handed out
  • According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of people who are taken to court over unauthorised absences has exploded in the last 4 years, with 20,000 people now facing prosecutions every year

Commenting on the judgement, Mr Platt vowed to fight the penalty and that he has "no intention of pleading guilty to this offence."

"To attend regularly no longer means to attend frequently, it now means to attend on all the days and at all the times that the school requires it. Every unauthorised absence, including being a minute late to school, is now a criminal offence" he added.

Patrick Comments:

"There is no way of sugar coating this ruling. It will be seen by many as a severe blow in the fight for parents' rights to take their children on holiday during term time; a fight that has been championed by Jon Platt."

"The highest court in the UK has ruled that 'regularly' means in accordance with the rules prescribed by the schools. Among many of the reasons given, the court ruled that there were sound policy reasons for arguing the impact an absence could have for a child and other pupils."

"Depending on which Local Authority they fall under, for many parents this will mean possible prosecution if they book a holiday during term time. As a minimum, they will face a £60 fixed penalty notice per child who misses school and if they refuse to pay this it will increase to £120 and ultimately they are likely to find themselves in the Magistrates Court."

"The Government has previously resisted the urge to regulate the travel industry and the price hikes faced by parents. It remains to be seen whether this will now be revisited but I firmly hope that it will."

"As it stands, parents are in a hugely unfair position of wanting to give their children valuable experiences while juggling budgets that can’t always accommodate 60% price hikes during school holidays."

"Being on holiday, especially for those children for whom it is a rare occasion, is both educational and hugely valuable on a number of levels."

"Mr Platt’s case has now returned to the Isle of White Magistrates Court. Whether his legal team will turn to Europe to seek clarification remains to be seen."

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