Isle of Wight man reprimanded for taking his daughter to Disney World fails in David v Goliath Supreme Court battle

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By Katie King on

Fell at the final hurdle

Judgment was given this morning in the case of Jon Platt, who defended his decision to take his daughter to Disney World in term time all the way up the country’s highest court. Unfortunately for him and despite a victory in the High Court, Platt’s bid for David v Goliath Supreme Court glory has failed.

The appeal centred on whether it was legal for Platt to remove his seven-year-old daughter from school, which he did so for seven consecutive days in April 2015. This was despite the school’s headteacher refusing permission for the absence.

Lady Hale, Lord Neuberger and Lord Mance in court today

Platt, from the Isle of Wight, was fined and later prosecuted under the Education Act 1996, s444(1) of which 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.

The appeal — which was heard by five judges on 31 January — turned on the interpretation of the word “regularly”. Respondent Platt, represented by Clive Sheldon QC of 11KBW, argued that his daughter was a regular attendee for statutory purposes (her attendance was 95% before the holiday, and 90% afterwards).

However, Brick Court Chambers‘ Martin Chamberlain QC, for the appellant council, said ‘attend regularly’ means “attend at all times when attendance is required at the school.” James Eadie QC, of Blackstone Chambers and acting for the intervening government, later stepped in to add that absence from school directly and adversely affects children’s educational attainment.

Today, the court sided with Chamberlain and Eadie. Giving a short summary of the judgment, which can be read in full below, Lady Hale said that there are at least three possible definitions of the word “regularly” in the statute.

These are: evenly spaced (for example, he attends church every Sunday), sufficiently often (he attends church almost every Sunday), and in accordance with the rules (he attends church when the church requires him to do so).

Lady Hale

It cannot mean evenly spaced, Hale said, as this would mean attendance at school every Monday would be sufficient. The High Court seemed to adopt the second definition, but: “there are many reasons to think this is not what parliament intended” when it passed the 1996 act, one being that the statute was introduced to increase school attendance.

The five justices unanimously concluded that the correct meaning of ‘regularly’ is ‘in accordance with the school’s rules on attendance’. The case isn’t about what those rules should be (that’s down to the school authority).

As for Platt, his case will be returned to the magistrates’ court, where he is likely to be found guilty of the offence.

Read the full judgment here:

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