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Defendants back weekly’s successful challenge to section 39 order

A challenge to a court’s Section 39 order was won by a weekly newspaper – with the support of the defendants.

The order had been imposed when Jenny and Roy Davies pleaded guilty at Taunton Magistrates Court for refusing to pay a £60 fixed penalty after taking their 14-year-old son Alistair out of school for a family holiday.

The S39 had been unsuccessfully appealed by the Cheddar Valley Gazette at the plea hearing despite the couple, who represented themselves in court, expressing their wishes that it be lifted.

However it was eventually overturned following a further challenge by trainee reporter Charlotte Fay-Fineran and digital publisher Ian Mat at last Monday’s sentencing.

Jenny Davies and son Alistair with legal letters and glowing academic reports from the Kings of Wessex Academy school, from which Alistair was pulled out to attend a family holiday

Jenny Davies and son Alistair with legal letters and glowing academic reports from the Kings of Wessex Academy school, from which Alistair was pulled out to attend a family holiday

After hearing their argument against the order, and from the representative for prosecuting body Somerset County Council as to why it should be upheld, the magistrates ruled the restriction should be lifted as an “error” had been made at the plea hearing.

Presiding magistrate Charis Cavaghan-Pack said: “It is normal for the school to protect a child which is the premise of a S39 order.

“But in this specific case it’s already in the public domain and we find there is considerable public interest in the outcome of this case.

“Also, for that reason, and open justice, we rule exceptionally there won’t be a s39 order in this case.”

The Davies family had taken a holiday to Corfu during term time following a family bereavement, which left Jenny requiring emergency surgery just days later and a further operation that left her unable to walk for months.

Each parent was fined £120, plus £30 costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

Gazette editor Bede MacGowan spoke up for the Davies family in an opinion piece accompanying the court report.

He wrote: “I take my hat off to the couple for having the guts to take a stand on this by deciding they know what’s best for their family.

“They helped us fight to be able to identify them so people would be aware of the full situation which led to this court appearance.

“It’s no secret that travel companies like to cash in on parents when it comes to the school holidays – in fact it’s little short of a polite mugging.

“But family holidays and trips away are a vital part of growing up. The experiences they can bring are every bit as important as a week in a classroom if not more so, especially when times have been tough.

“Forcing families to squeeze their holidays into a few weeks of the year makes no real sense; all it really achieves is to reduce a young person’s childhood experiences, add to family stresses and play into the hands of greedy travel companies and hoteliers.

“And let’s not forget the impact on business at peak holiday times as mums and dads take time off simultaneously.

“Crack down on parents who allow their children to play truant by all means, but this assault on parental rights is beyond a joke.”


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  • February 23, 2015 at 7:13 am

    I don’t think the Editor has thought this through. These parents were prosecuted for not paying a £60 fine, not taking the child away in the first place. They made that decision and should pay the fine and no responsible paper should advocate law breaking, even if they disagree with the law. If you apply the Editor’s thinking to the general situation, then at some stage between truancy and family holiday, there is a point where keeping a child out of school for financial or convenience purposes becomes acceptable and justifiable. Of course the travel companies are profiteering, what a surprise, but there can’t be a situation where parents can pick and choose.

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  • February 25, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Could it not be argued that Sec 39s should not apply in truancy cases?
    The aggrieved, or victim? The education authority.
    The defendants? The parent(s).
    Child involved in the case as a witness in the proceedings? Not commonly.

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