What is “regularly“?
By Jerome Veldsman
Isle of Wight Council v Platt, a decision of the UK Supreme Court on 6 April 2017, dealt with the meaning of the word “regularly“.
Under the UK Education Act, if a child of compulsory school age “fails to attend regularly” at the school where he or she is a registered pupil, his or her parent is guilty of an offence, unless the child had permission from the school to be absent or some other recognised excuse applied.
A father wished to take his six year old daughter on holiday during school term, and formally applied for permission to take her out of school for seven school days. The head teacher refused the request, and threatened the father with a “fixed penalty notice” should he commit “unauthorised family holiday during term time”. Such a notice has essentially the same effect as a parking ticket – if you pay up, you are not prosecuted.
The father and daughter went on the holiday, the father received the fixed penalty notice (for GBP 60), he did not pay up, and he was prosecuted in the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrate dismissed the case, on the basis that overall the daughter’s school attendance had been above the “satisfactory attendance” percentage of 90%, despite the unauthorised holiday, so she had not “failed to attend regularly“. The Council escalated the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
‘There are at least three possible meanings of “regularly” in [the UK Education Act]:
(a) evenly spaced, as in “he attends Church regularly every Sunday”;
(b) sufficiently often, as in “he attends Church regularly, almost every week”; or
(c) in accordance with the rules, as in “he attends Church when he is required to do so”.‘
The very lengthy judgment concluded in favour of (c): in the UK Education Act, ‘“regularly” means “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”‘.
A case decided in Durban in 1950 (Higgs v Grant), dealt with the word “regularly” regarding interest payments under the following provisions:
“so long as the said principal debt … remain[s] owing [the borrower] shall regularly pay interest thereon … at the rate of … on the last days of March and September, in each year …“
The borrower failed to make the first interest payment, and the lender called up the loan. The borrower argued that “regularly” means something less stringent than “punctually”. The Court disagreed: “‘Regularly’ means in this context ‘observing fixed times for, or never failing in, the performance of’ the duty’. … This, in my opinion, is the equivalent of ‘punctually, according to the terms agreed’.”