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Knowsley Council’s Private Hire Vehicle Policy is Unlawful

Gerald Gouriet QC
Leo Charalambides
Charles Streeten

Delta Taxis wins battle to operate throughout Merseyside.

The High Court has ruled that a policy requiring Private Hire Drivers to work “predominantly” in the  area of the Knowsley licensing authority is unlawful.

Knowsley Borough Council had amended its Private Hire Vehicle Driver’s Policy so as to require applicants for PHV drivers licences to sign an undertaking that they would work predominantly within the Knowsley controlled district. The policy created a presumption of refusal of a PHV driver’s licence to any applicant who did not demonstrate a bona fide intention so to work. Kerr J quashed the policy as unlawful on the ground that section 51 of the LGMPA 1976 provides that a driver’s licence “shall” be granted to an applicant who is a fit and proper person and has held an RTA driving licence for at least a year. Where he ultimately drives is immaterial.

It is well established that provided vehicles and drivers used to fulfil a PHV booking are licensed by the same authority as licensed the operator, the actual journey undertaken may lawfully pass through, or may even begin and end in, an area wholly unconnected with the licensing authority. Knowsley council nonetheless sought to persuade the High Court that an applicant who had little or no intention of working within its boundaries was not a fit and proper person within the terms of section 51, because he would be undermining a principle of “local licensing” which has been recognised as central to the private hire regime provided by the 1976 Act. The judge rejected that submission as contrary to the decided cases on the meaning of “fit and proper person” within that section.

Generic licence

The judge agreed with Delta’s submission that a PHV driver’s licence is generic in nature – i.e. It is a licence to drive private hire vehicles generally, rather than to drive a specific vehicle. It follows that the enquiry made by a licensing authority as to an applicant’s fitness and propriety is an enquiry restricted to his fitness to drive private hire vehicles in general. The locations in which a PHV driver might lawfully work are not relevant to that enquiry.

Although he said that it was not necessary to decide the issue in the present appeal, the judge was inclined to think that the promotion of “local licensing” might, to a limited extent, be capable of informing a condition on a PHV licence that was otherwise lawful and proportionate.

Gerald Gouriet QC and Charles Streeten appeared for Delta Merseyside Limited.

Leo Charalambides appeared for Knowsley Borough Council.