Ruling fails to clarify school truancy penalties
Widespread public confusion exists around the penalties that parents face if they take their children out of school for unauthorised holiday breaks, lawyers said after a landmark court ruling.
On Friday, two High Court judges backed a father who refused to pay a fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school for a family trip to Florida.
Isle of Wight council originally fined Jon Platt after he took his family on holiday and then doubled the penalty because he refused to pay. Platt won a ruling in his favour at the Isle of Wight magistrates’ court last October but the local authority appealed against the decision at the High Court in London.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not erred in law when reaching their decision.
The magistrates had decided that Platt had no case to answer because no evidence had been produced to prove that his daughter, now seven, had failed to attend school regularly.
The two High Court judges ruled that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent during the holiday.
Commenting after the judgment, a senior lawyer pointed out that “there is no such thing as a fine for taking a child out of school”. According to Richard Wilkins, a partner at national law firm BLM, “the fines – which do not apply everywhere – are fixed penalty notices that effectively purchase exemption from being prosecuted for offences related to a very limited absence”.
He added: “Parents aren’t obliged to pay and can take their chances on the slim possibility that they will be prosecuted. Many head teachers are actually more concerned about the confusion this causes for parents than the limitations they face in not being able to apply discretion.”
Wilkins feared the ruling would mean that “in the short term, there is likely to be more absence and less done about it. The old law was perfectly sensible but misunderstanding of this judgment will probably mean new law will be needed to send a message.”
He described that as “a regrettable, expensive and disruptive consequence of an ill-judged decision to appeal by the council”
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