Tim Briton analyses an important High Court ruling on unlawfully plying for hire and driving without insurance, and discusses the options for licensing authorities.
Minor shockwaves are rippling through the world of taxi licensing following the recent judgment in the case of Oldham Borough Council v Sajjad (2016) EWHC 3597 (Admin), in which it was deemed that a driver of a Hackney Carriage guilty of unlawfully plying for hire outside his licensed area was not also guilty of driving without insurance, because the provisions of his insurance certificate which were intended to geographically limit the cover in line with his Hackney Carriage licence were of no effect.
Only Hackney Carriages licensed by a particular council may lawfully ply for hire in that council’s controlled area; and whilst that Hackney Carriage may be used for private work elsewhere in the country, an offence is committed if it is used to ply for hire outside the licensing authority’s geographic bounds.
An offence is equally committed by using any vehicle other than a Hackney Carriage to ply for hire.
It has been commonplace when prosecuting for unlawfully plying for hire to also prosecute for driving without insurance, not least because the offence of driving without insurance attracts a minimum penalty of six points on the individual’s DVLA driving licence whereas unlawfully plying for hire simply attracts a monetary penalty.
However, in the Sajjad case Lord Justice McCombe commented that the law, “adequately punishe[s] those who ply for hire outside the geographical area of their licence, since by doing so they commit a criminal offence irrespective of the insurance position”.
The size of fines imposed for unlawfully plying for hire can call into question whether they are sufficient to deter licensees from breaking the law; whereas the risk of being disqualified from driving as a result of an insurance conviction can have a direct impact on that person’s lifestyle and livelihood, which has a significant deterrent effect.
Perhaps rather than looking to the Courts for deterrence, councils can be encouraged to make more effective use of the powers they have under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
Section 61(1)(b) of the Act gives licensing authorities a wide discretion to suspend or revoke the licence of a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire driver where they are no longer satisfied that a person is fit and proper to be licensed. However section 61(a)(ii) specifically enables authorities to revoke a licence where, since the grant of that licence, they have been convicted of unlawfully plying for hire.
Licensing authorities should be emboldened by this provision to take robust action against their licensees who are caught unlawfully ply for hire. They can also strengthen their arm by clearly setting out in their policies that unlawful plying for hire will, in all but the most exceptional of circumstances, be seen as a fundamental breach of the trust that is placed in licensees and as such is likely to lead to revocation of that person’s licence.
The adequacy of criminal punishment is rightly a matter for the Courts, but if that punishment does not deter a licensee from acting unlawfully then it is within councils’ hands to revoke that person’s licence and so prevent them repeating their actions in the future.
The Sajjad decision may now lead councils to emphasise the seriously detrimental impact that unlawfully plying for hire has on public safety, and on the confidence the travelling public has in the licensed trade.