Essex man challenges school fine


An Essex man is trying to take his local council to the European Court for Human Rights after being fined for removing his daughter from school during Shavuot.

Paul Clements, from Romford, whose wife is Jewish, was fined £60 by Havering Council after the family went away to Ibiza for five and a half days in term last spring, which included the two days of the festival of Shavuot.

He said that his wife had sought leave of absence from the school for their eight-year-old daughter, mentioning that it was partly for religious observance, but the school had refused.

Mr Clements, who described himself as an atheist, explained his wife was “occasionally practising” and the family attended Jewish gatherings such as a Seder last weekend. But they had not previously applied to take their daughter out of school for a Jewish festival.

“The Human Rights Act guarantees the right of religious observance,” he said. “The Education Act of 1996 says that time off must be allowed for religious observance for any day of the observance.”

The law did not specify the meaning of religious observance, he pointed out, or whether, for instance it involved attending a place of worship.

“Where you are going or who you are going with is irrelevant if time off is requested for that reason,” he said.

After an appeal against the fine to the Local Government Ombudsman had failed, he said he had now written to the European Court of Human Rights.

In a statement, Havering Council said that “attending the ceremony does not account for the fact his child missed five-and-a-half days of lessons while the family were in Spain. This extended absence was unauthorised by the school which found that this did not meet the threshold for an exceptional circumstance of absence.”

The council said that on the original application for a place at the school, “Mr Clements had put that his family were non-practising. However, we were later informed that Mrs Clements and their child are Jewish.

“The law is quite clear on this matter, school is compulsory. National guidelines allow only short absences for exceptional circumstances, not extended leave, as was taken in this case.”

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