Dad who took his daughter to Disney World for term-time holiday WINS landmark High Court case to beat £120 school fine
The dad fined for taking his daughter out of school for a Disneyland holiday said the High Court decision the council was wrong to penalise him was a victory for parents.
The decision does not set a precedent, as it will still be down to magistrates to decide whether the law has been broken but it could open the floodgates for unauthorised termtime holidays.
It means that parents whose children have a good attendance record are more likely to win any case that comes to court.
Businessman Jon Platt, 45, had argued that because the law asked for a regular attendance at school, his daughter’s 93 per cent record meant that he was not in breach taking her out for a US holiday.
His £60 fine was doubled to £120 when he refused to pay, but magistrates backed him and today the local council were ordered to pay his £14,631 High Court costs .
Today (Fri) Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall ruled against the Isle of Wight council’s appeal.
Dad-of-three Mr Platt, dressed in a purple tie and grey suit, celebrated the judgement, which allows magistrates to determine whether absence is justified.
After the hearing, he said: “I’m hugely relieved. There’s hundreds of other parents in cases in magistrates’ court hingeing on this case.
“There are hundreds of local authorities issuing truancy penalty notices and they want to believe a criminal offence has been committed.
“The court had made it absolutely clear today that an unauthorised holiday cannot in itself be in breach of the legislation.
“They must look at the fact magistrates are entitled to look at the periods other than just the absence.
“If the magistrates are happy attendance is regular then it’s up to them.
“Absolutely it is a victory. It’s parents who should decide what’s best for their children.
“Unfortunately there’s far too many people in positions of power who think they know better.
“It has been hideous. Nobody wants to find themselves in this position. I had no choice of being here.
“If I had my choice I would be in beautiful Isle of White enjoying the sunshine with my children.”
He said he would donate the £2,307 he made by crowdfunding to the NSPCC now the council must pay his costs.
He took his daughter, then six,to Disney World in Florida in April 2015 despite the girl’s school, in the Isle of White, refusing permission and she missed seven days of lessons.
When he failed to pay the council decided to prosecute him for failing to ensure she attend the school regularly under section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.
Mr Platt managed to argue at Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court that the prosecution failed to show the child did not attend regularly and the case was thrown out of court on October 12.
The dad maintains that even with the holiday and other absences she still has an attendance above 90 per cent – the threshold for truancy as defined by the Government.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has an attendance of 95 per cent before the holiday between April 13 – 21.
It only fell to 92.3 percent after returning to Bembridge Primary School, which is still within the its desired limits.
But the Isle of White challenged the magistrates’ decision in the High Court.
Mark Jackson, on behalf of the council, said the law may seem “draconian” but is necessary.
He said that the only justified absences under the law are those approved by the school, those for religious purposes and failure to provide travel arrangements for the child.
And he said if the judges found in favour of Mr Platt then parents would be able to take children out of school without authorisation for 19 days a year.
Mr Jackson said: “Our submission is ‘regular’ means full-time.
“The consequences of any other than full-time is to adversely act on then education of the child.
“It would effectively mean every parent would be allowed to take a child on holiday without asking the school and without falling foul of their requirement for full-time attendance at school. It would cause untold potential harm.”
The council says it expected to spend £10,000 in the battle but a source suggested this may have risen.
Mr Platt‘s lawyer, Paul Greatorex, told the court: “One does not want to be too disrespectful of submissions advanced buy it really is a hopeless contention, the idea that any unauthorised absence amounts to a criminal offence.
“It is a case that affects tens of thousands of parents in terms of fixed penalty notices and it affects every other parent with the potential for a criminal record.”
But Mr Jackson said: “What happens in this case is the respondent asks the school for leave to take his child to Florida on holiday in term-time.
“It is refused and he does so anyway. That’s very different to a child being late or a child can’t attend school because they have to go to the dentist and a patent doesn’t have anything to prove they went to the dentist.”
Lord Justice Jones ruled that an unauthorised absence is not automatically a criminal offence and magistrates can decide if it is the case by upholding the Isle of White court’s judgement.
He told the court: “I am unable to say their conclusion was not one reasonable made by them.”
The judges did not rule on what “regular” attendance means and therefore how much unauthorised absence parents can take before being prosecute