The meaning of the 6 months limitation period in prosecutions related to school attendance.

The request was refused by Ministry of Justice.

Dear Ministry of Justice,

I made the following FOI request to the Department of Education, who advised me that you are most likely to hold the information I seek:

My question is in regard to the meaning of the 1980 Magistrates' Court Act, section 127 ''limitation of time'' in prosecutions under the 1996 Education Act section 444 1 and 1a (the failure to secure regular attendance at school of a registered pupil).

It has come to my attention that councils across the country have given different information about this to parents, hence my questions:

a) Is the 6 months limitation of time (see above mentioned legislation) calculated from the ACTUAL last unauthorised absence as recorded/ marked on the school register ('unauthorised absences' being the way schools record ''failure to secure regular attendance at school'')?

b) When a prosecution is initiated following the refusal of a parent to pay a Penalty Notice, is the 6 months limitation of time (see above mentioned legislation) calculated from the ACTUAL last unauthorised absence as recorded / marked on the school register? ( I am aware that failure to pay a penalty notice is not a chargeable offence and that the resulting prosecution is instead for the original ''failure to secure regular attendance at school''.)

c) Is there any situation in which the 6 months limitation of time (see above mentioned legislation) can be calculated from a different, LATER, date other than the actual last unauthorised absence as recorded / marked on the school register? If yes, please explain in detail.

Explanation: The reason I need all of the above clarified in writing is the fact that on numerous occasions Local Authorities have given the following reasons for threatening court action even though the chargeable offence (failure to secure regular attendance at school) was committed more than 6 months ago:

1. The chargeable offence took place immediately prior to the summer holidays, therefore the 6 week holiday period does not count as part of the 6 months limitation of time.

2. The Penalty Notice referred to an arbitrary time period during which the chargeable offence (failure to secure regular attendance at school) took place and the end of this time period, NOT the last time the child failed to attend school without an acceptable reason, falls within the 6 months limitation of time period.

Yours faithfully,

Karin Siemund

HMCTS Customer Service (Correspondence), Ministry of Justice

Thank you for your email of 4 June about the 1980 Magistrates' Court Act 1927.

Although the Act is in the public domain, the interpretation of the Act is, ultimately, for a judge to decide. Government Ministers and their officials are unable to comment on or intervene in cases that are subject to judicial decision. This isn’t through any lack of concern or interest in the issues you raise but because the judiciary are independent of the administration of the courts and it’s important that we don’t take any action to undermine that independence.

Your question relates to the interpretation of the law. HM Courts & Tribunals Service administrative staff are not legally qualified and cannot give legal advice. You may wish to seek independent advice. Any Citizens Advice office can provide free, confidential and impartial advice on a range of matters. You could also contact Civil Legal Advice by telephone on 0345 345 4345 for help locating other appropriate advisory services in your local area.

I'm sorry I can't give any further help.

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