David Jon v Goliath?
A man from the Isle of Wight is battling with the government today over his decision to take his young daughter to Disney World during school term time.
The case — which is being heard in the Supreme Court right now — is factually very simple.
Businessman and respondent Jon Platt took his seven-year-old child out of her state school for seven consecutive school days from 13-21 April 2015 so they could go on a family holiday to Florida together. Platt was fined and later prosecuted for doing so under the Education Act 1996. S444(1) of this states:
If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.
This appeal turns on the interpretation of the word “regularly”.
At first instance in the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court, Platt — who runs a company that specialises in challenging unfair bank charges — successfully convinced the bench his daughter was a regular attendee for statutory purposes (her attendance was 92.3%).
The High Court agreed the Magistrates’ Court was entitled to take into account the child’s overall attendance score in this way, and the Isle of Wight Council (the appellant) was not happy about it. Lady Hale, Lord Carnwarth and Lord Hodge granted the council permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on 20 December 2016. The Department of Education is now an intervener in the case.
Today, both sides will battle it out to convince Lady Hale and Lords Reed, Neuberger, Mance and Hughes that their interpretation of the statute is correct. Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC — who recently represented the bus company in the nail biting wheelchair vs pram Supreme Court hearing — is acting for the appellant council. James Eadie QC, of Brexit legal challenge fame, is representing the intervening government, while Clive Sheldon QC of 11KBW is for the respondent.
It was a shaky start for Chamberlain this morning, who kicked off proceedings by stating he wished for an order to be made to protect the identity of the child involved in the case.
Though Neuberger initially agreed, Hale grilled the QC on whether this was really necessary. The child’s surname, her school and the name of the local authority are all in the public domain, so what good would this do? Neuberger said he’d make the order “for now”, but urged Chamberlain to think about whether it’s needed.
However, once he got going, Chamberlain argued “attend regularly” means “attend at all times when attendance is required at the school” or, in simpler terms, “attend in accordance to the rules”.
Taking the stage a few minutes before his allotted 12.15pm time slot, Eadie made his case on behalf of the government. He told the court that, when you strip away the legal technicalities, the question for it is: “does a parent have a right to take their child out of school during term time for any reason they judge appropriate?” He went on to say that absence from school directly and adversely affects the child’s educational attainment, and absence is likely to disrupt other children too. The longer the absence, the greater these concerns are, and the more children absent, these concerns will be greater still.
It’ll be Sheldon’s turn to wow the bench next, and Chamberlain will close today’s proceedings at 4pm.
This case has captured the interest of the media and the public in a way most Supreme Court cases do not. This is perhaps because it involves ordinary people debating everyday issues — a far cry from the complex business disputes the court often hears.
The same was true in the case of Barry Beavis, a fish and chip shop owner who fought his £85 parking all the way up to the highest court in the land. Though Beavis was ultimately unsuccessful in his legal battle, his story caught the public’s attention and was viewed more than any other in the first six months of the Supreme Court’s ‘Video on Demand’ service.
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