On 13 May 2016, the High Court ruled in favour of father, Mr. Jon Platt, who refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday.
Since September 2013, under guidance from the Department of Education, children can only be taken out of school during term time in “exceptional circumstances”. However, Mr. Platt took his daughter to Disney World in Florida in April 2015. Her school, on the Isle of Wight, had refused permission for the trip but he took her anyway and she missed seven days of lessons. Mr Platt was initially issued with a £60 fixed penalty fine, which he refused to pay. The council doubled the fine to £120 – again, he refused to pay. Mr. Platt felt that he had not conducted a criminal act against his own child. He was then prosecuted by Isle of Wight Council for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly, contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.
First instance decision
At the magistrates’ court, Mr Platt successfully argued that there was no case to answer as the prosecution had failed to show that his daughter did not attend regularly. He argued that her attendance remained above 90% - the threshold for persistent truancy defined by the Department for Education.
High Court decision
The council appealed the first decision to the High Court. The question the court had to answer was whether the magistrates erred in law in taking into account attendance outside of the offence dates that were particularised in the court summons when determining the percentage attendance of the child. 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. They held 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.
Early opinion may rush to conclude that this will open the floodgates for parents to be able to take their children out of school during term time, when holidays are 60% cheaper, but this is not necessarily the case. It is important to note that Mr. Platt’s daughter still maintained an attendance record of around 93% and this wider picture of attendance was key to the decision that went in his favour, which leads to an interesting conversation with the kids next time they say they do not feel so good.