Term-Time Fines - The Fight Continues
The Law Of… criminalising law-abiding parents
Lawyers acting for a father taken to court for refusing to pay a fine after taking his daughter on holiday during term-time, have said that a reversal of a previous judgement exonerating his actions would result in the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding parents.
Julie Robertson, Head of Motoring and Criminal Defences at Simpson Millar, looks at the circumstances surrounding this case and the Department for Education's (DfE) attempt to appeal the earlier decision.
Jon Platt, a businessman from the Isle of Wight, first made the news in 2015, when he successfully challenged the DfE's rule banning unauthorised term-time absences for state school children.
Introduced in 2013, the new regulations threatened parents who took their children out of school during term-time with a fixed penalty of £60. If it wasn't paid within 21 days the fine was doubled to £120 and court proceedings initiated if it remained unpaid after 28 days.
Mr Platt, who took his daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World in Florida, refused to pay the fine and was subsequently taken to court, where his argument that the law only required him to ensure his daughter's 'regular attendance' was backed by the magistrates. When the local authority appealed this the case was heard at the High Court, where Mr Platt was once again successful; the ruling led to some councils across the country dropping prosecution cases of their own and the suspension of further fines.
The Department for Education has since made a final appeal at the Supreme Court to overturn the previous decisions.
The Department's case rests on the assertion that unscheduled absences were not only disruptive to the child, but to the teacher and to the other pupils too. James Eadie, the QC representing the education secretary argued that the legislation did not mean that:
"A parent has a right to take their child out of school during term time for any reason they judge appropriate […] and to do so irrespective of the judgement of the school."
A judgement is due to be made by Easter, although Mr Platt already fears that he has lost the case, saying:
"If I'm right and this goes against us, it's going to have serious implications way beyond what the DfE understand. There were 12.8million unauthorised absences last year. The actions of all those parents will have been criminal if we lose."
He added that the reintroduction of fines and the threat of court action will put extra burden on the NHS, as parents take their children to the GP for every minor ailment to avoid an unauthorised absence.
The punitive measures can see a parent who is taken to court facing a maximum fine of £2,500 or up to 3 months in prison.
"There is a clear difference, in my opinion, between truancy and a term time holiday. However, Local Education Authorities have been treating both situations the same way in the sense that parents in either scenario have been prosecuted for failing to secure regular attendance."
"Whether a child attends school regularly should continue to be the relevant issue and Local Education Authorities should not seek to criminalise parents who have chosen to take a term time holiday where, for example, it would not be possible during peak season."
"The parents I represent in these cases have demonstrated that they have put the best interests of their child and their education first when making decisions about absence during term time. The law should not be used to criminalise such behaviour."