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High Court judge quashes intended use policy for private hire drivers

A High Court judge has this week quashed Knowsley Borough Council's intended use policy for private hire drivers, which required them to sign a declaration that they intended to drive predominantly in its area.

The council had adopted the policy in March last year to tackle a rise in applications for private hire driver licences from outside its area.

Drivers faced non-renewal or revocation of licences if in fact they drove predominantly elsewhere.

Uber Britannia Limited and Delta Cars separately applied to judicially review the policy.

The case was heard by Mr Justice Kerr in the High Court in Manchester on 6 and 7 February.

The judge accepted Uber’s argument that the private hire licence was a licence to drive anywhere and was not confined in any way to the local area. That was made clear by section 75(2) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, and by various decided cases, counsel for Uber, Philip Kolvin QC, submitted to the court.

Mr Justice Kerr rejected the council’s argument that the fit and proper person criterion was an elastic concept, stretching beyond personal characteristics. The local authority argued that a driver who had "failed to show commitment" to Knowsley and the concept of local licensing, might be deemed unfit to hold a licence, given the width of the council's discretion.

The High Court judge also agreed with Delta’s submission that the licence to drive a vehicle was a generic permission, without geographic control, as opposed to a specific permission, which attached to a particular premise or place.

A Knowsley Council spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed with this outcome, which seems to judge that the profits of taxi companies is more important than the safety of their passengers.

"Our policy was introduced so that we know that the driver is licensed, that their vehicle complies with safety standards and we have a record of any training they have received. Having taxi drivers who have been licensed by us working away from Knowsley means that we don’t have power to enforce or monitor their activities – posing a potential risk to public safety. We believe that is what the public expect us to do and what we should do, and it is frustrating and concerning that this judgement makes that unnecessarily difficult.

"This isn’t the end and we will now be calling on the Government to review out-dated legislation which is putting the public’s safety at risk.”

Philip Kolvin QC, Head of Chambers at Cornerstone Barristers, said: “While this was not a difficult case, it was an important one. It underlines that policies are there to guide the exercise of the statutory discretion. They cannot create a discretion which the authority does not have. That lesson applies not only to licensing but across all fields of public law.”

Kolvin and John Fitzsimons, also of Cornerstone Barristers, were instructed by Martyn Scott and Hannah Metcalfe of DLA Piper UK LLP.

Gerald Gouriet QC and Charles Streeten of Francis Taylor Building appeared for Delta, instructed by Barry Holland of Aaron & Partners. Leo Charalambides, also of FTB, appeared for Knowsley

See also: Taxi licensing policy quashed – Philip Kolvin QC explains the ruling.

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