Everyday law – looking forward to the bank holiday weekend?

This article is part of our Everyday law series where we look at examples of how law affects us as we go about our daily lives.

Looking forward to the bank holiday weekend? Many of us will have four days off work over the months of April and May due to the long Easter weekend and the May public and bank holidays.

Have you ever wondered how these holidays came to be? And why some are referred to as public holidays while others are bank holidays? In fact, the next four holidays come from quite different legal sources, a mixture of public holidays derived from common law, and bank holidays derived from statute law and Royal Proclamation!

The first one, Good Friday, is an entitlement from common law and so is technically a public holiday – these predate the institution of bank holidays. Christmas is another example.

The Bank Holidays Act 1871 put a number of these days off on a statutory footing and introduced new ones. Easter Monday, for instance, was first introduced by statute under the Act and is therefore a statutory bank holiday.

The 1871 Act has since been replaced by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 which incorporates both the Good Friday and Easter Monday holidays. The 1971 Act also allows for bank holidays to be created by Royal Proclamation. This gives the Queen the power to declare additional days as bank holidays. For example, the Royal Wedding in April 2011 was designated a bank holiday.

The early May bank holiday has its origins in the historic celebration of May Day on 1st May. In 1978 it was decided that a bank holiday should be given on the first Monday in May and since then the actual date has been created as a bank holiday by Royal Proclamation each year.

The late May bank holiday is a statutory bank holiday created in the 1971 Act which falls on the last Monday in May. It replaced Whit Monday, which had been a public holiday since 1871, and whose date varied according to the date of Easter.

Just because a date is a public or bank holiday, you aren’t automatically entitled to take a day off work. It’s up to your employer to decide whether or not you have to work on bank holidays. If your place of work is closed on bank holidays, your employer can include these days within your annual leave entitlement or agree for you to be paid for them in addition to your annual leave entitlement. This will be outlined in your contract of employment.

You can find out all about how the laws of England are made by a combination of common law, statute law and precedent in our Introduction to Law and Practice course. Employment rights are covered by Employment Law.

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You don’t need to qualify as a lawyer to get a job in a law firm – there are many junior/support roles which don’t require a degree. And you can study for CILEx courses alongside your work.

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