Saturday, 4 February 2017

Legal Argument

When I was teaching Law to undergraduates in Northampton, I would regularly take small groups of my students for unofficial tours of Westminster. Part of the day involved sitting in the hearings of the Law Lords. It was both interesting and informative - and a useful introduction for aspirant lawyers to legal argument. We even got to see both argument and the decision in Pepper v Hart.

Sadly, I no longer have the opportunity (the time) to listen to hearings before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. However, since the 1990s we have the internet - and hearings can be viewed on the Supreme Court website - though in recent years I've relied on reading the decisions - rather than viewing the hearings.

However a friend asked whether I had watched this weeks hearing in the Isle of Wight v Platt case. I hadn't, but took the opportunity to watch (some) of the hearing. It's a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to understand how legal argument is conducted, especially when it is a matter of statutory interpretation.

The case concerns the legal duty of a parent to ensure that their child attend school regularly. In this case the parent fulfilled that duty well - except that they withdrew their child from school for a few days in order to take the child on holiday. They were fined - but never paid. The case looks at what the legislation means in practice.

The decision of the original court can be read at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2016/1283.html

I am unable to embed the videos of the hearings - but they can be accessed at

Morning session - https://www.supremecourt.uk/watch/uksc-2016-0155/310117-am.html
Afternoon session - https://www.supremecourt.uk/watch/uksc-2016-0155/310117-pm.html

The Justices are now considering their decision - keep an eye on the Supreme Court website, and once the decision iOS delivered, the full law report will be available.

If I were still teaching, I would use this case to illustrate legal argument; and how statutory interpretation is undertaken. At one point one of the justices identifies what he thought the ratio decidendi of an earlier case and invites the lawyer to respond. If you are studying law this case is worth watching.