Essex 'human rights' parents' school bid backed by campaigners

Image caption James and Dana Haymore say the penalty breaches their human rights

Campaigners are backing a couple who say their human rights were infringed when they were fined for taking their child out of school during term time.

James and Dana Haymore, from Chelmsford, declined to pay Essex County Council £120 for taking their son Toby to a family memorial service.

Their case has been taken on by Liberty which said "common sense must prevail".

The couple denied failing to ensure a child attended school regularly at Colchester Magistrates' Court earlier.

A trial will begin on 10 November.

Liberty, also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties, said Mr Haymore, 34, and Mrs Haymore, 32, from Sandford Mill Road, took their 11-year-old son Toby out of Chancellor Park Primary in Chelmsford for six days to attend a service for Mrs Haymore's grandfather in the US.

The six days were between 16 and 20 December and on 7 January.

Liberty said the US couple were originally fined £120, but now face a £1,000 penalty after refusing to pay.

Image caption The couple's son attended Chancellor Park Primary School in Chelmsford

The Haymores are arguing that the decision breaches the European Convention of Human Rights Article 8, because it affects their right to a family life.

The court was told that between 4 November and 21 March Toby attended school on 146 "occasions" out of 168 and had an attendance rate of 87%.

Liberty said the couple were refused permission to take their child out of school for the memorial service.

It is being treated as a test case.

School attendance rules

By Katherine Sellgren, BBC News education reporter

Parents in England and Wales have a legal responsibility to ensure their children attend school (unless they have opted to home-educate them). If they fail to do so, they are committing an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

Parents can put in requests for term-time holidays, but these requests are granted or refused entirely at the head teacher's discretion and are not a parental right.

Heads in England were previously able to grant up to 10 days of leave a year for family holidays in "special circumstances". But since 1 September 2013, they have no longer been able to grant any absence in term time except under "exceptional circumstances".

In Northern Ireland, the majority of family holidays taken during term time are categorised as an unauthorised absence.

If parents in England and Wales fail to ensure their children attend school, they may be issued with penalty notices of £50 to £100. Prosecution can result in a fine of up to £2,500, a jail sentence of up to three months or a community sentence.

A change in the law last September means that anyone who takes their children out of classes without permission can be fined.

Outside court, Rosie Brighouse from Liberty said: "Common sense must prevail here. Is criminalising parents for taking their children out of school for momentous family events really the best use of council resources, court time and public money?

"The rules that led to the Haymores' ordeal go no way towards addressing the deeper and more complex social problems that contribute to some children repeatedly missing school."

Essex County Council said it would not comment until a verdict had been reached.

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