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Court Returns Taxi Driver's License on Appeal

Chris Satori

Mr Andrew KayA two day hearing in Lancaster Magistrates Court last week heard an appeal by  the chair of the Lancaster Hackney Proprietors Association (HPA), Mr Andrew Kay, against the suspension and later revocation of his Hackney Licence, by the Lancaster City Council Licensing Department.

Last Friday 16 March 2012, District Judge Jeffrey Brailsford upheld the suspension but ruled that Mr Kay should have his license returned to him, albeit with a further two week suspension.

The court heard that Mr Kay had had a spotless record as a taxi driver for over 17 years until he became the chair of the HPA in 2010. In 2011 he was informed that a taxi company based in the Lancaster Licensing Area but licensed only by the South Lakeland Licensing Authority had allegedly been ‘hacking’ fares without the correct licensing in the Lancaster Area. He had visited the proprietor of this company at their address in Carnforth, which was also their home address, and had engaged them on the subject in their front garden.

Following this exchange both Mr Kay and the proprietor of the other taxi company lodged complaints and Mr Kay was issued with a warning notice by the Lancaster Licensing Dept.

However on 10 September 2011 Mr Kay took a telephone booking and drove 11 miles to the Longlands Hotel to find his fare seated in a cab belonging to the taxi company he had previously complained about, albeit with a new driver, and about to depart. He remonstrated verbally with both driver and passengers, informing them that the journey would contravene the insurance policy of the driver as he alleged that it was unlicensed, having been booked at the kerbside by a cab only licensed for telephone bookings.

Again, complaints were lodged on all sides, with the passengers and driver claiming that they had felt threatened by Mr Kay’s conduct.

The appeal court heard testimony from Ms Wendy Peck, Licensing Manager, Cllrs William Hill and Anthony Johnson of the Licensing Committee, Luke Gorst, a Lancaster City Council solicitor attached to the Licensing Department and PCs Gough and Hodgson, also attached to the Licensing Department. Testimony also came from witnesses at the Longland’s Hotel incident.

In October 2011 the Licensing Department suspended Mr Kay’s license for one month, with immediate effect. In most cases the suspension of a license takes effect after 21 days, giving the licensee time to appeal. However in cases where a threat to public safety has been identified, an immediate suspension may be imposed. In this case that was the course the committee took, with a warning notice that he should not take such matters into his own hands but refer them to the authority.

Mr Kay lodged an appeal against his suspension, which was served out, but before the appeal hearing took place he became involved in a further altercation over a parking ticket for obstruction. His language on this occasion was offensive, as Mr Kay acknowledged to the court, and the two police constables involved, who happened to be the City Licensing Dept Liaison Officers, well known to Mr Kay, issued a further complaint.  Mr Kay’s license was revoked, again with immediate effect.

PC Hodgson told the court that it was 'one of the worst taxi incidents I've ever seen'. (Which many would find very reassuring indeed.) Judge Brailsford, noting that PC Hodgson had been a Licensing Liaison Officer for over 17 years, took this as 'a little hyperbolic'.  He went on to say, "I am wholly sure that if it had been anyone other than PCs Gough and Hodgson on Market Street that day Mr Kay would have reacted in a more measured and grown up way. I doubt that such an incident would have happened with a fare on board.; I believe that the issue, in his mind rather than in reality, is his history with these particular officers, and it needs to stop now.'

Referring to testimony from Councillors Hill and Johnson he said 'This is certainly the first time I have had concerned, if not dissenting, members of a decision-making body give evidence, effectively, against their own committee.'

District Judge Jeffrey Brailsford, hearing appeals against both the suspension and the revocation, upheld the suspension but not the revocation. In his judgement he said:

"There is evidence before me that the committee did not address its mind specifically to the issue of public safety in relation to these events (which it must), before reaching the conclusion and imposing the sanction that it did at its January 2012 meeting. There have been historic issue between some, if not all of the people involved." He went on to say "I have come to the evidence-based view that the sanction imposed was the wrong one, reached by the wrong route".  Consequently the revocation was not upheld.

Giving consideration to Mr Kay’s previous suspension and the 67 days he had already been out of work due to the disallowed revocation, District Judge Brailsford replaced the revocation with a 14 day suspension effective in 21 days, giving Mr Kay time to appeal again, should he wish. No costs were awarded.

Mr Kay told Virtual-Lancaster:

"I am delighted and relieved by Justice Brailsford’s decision to return my license and, with it, my livelihood. I have been a taxi driver for 20 years and felt very troubled at leaving my regular fares in the lurch. Our Lancaster & District Branch of the Hackney Proprietors Association is a very new trade association and although it's not every driver's cup of tea I take the concerns of all the 1000 local taxi drivers very seriously. Being the chair has been a very steep learning curve for me and I appreciated Judge Brailsford's very civil remarks about it. 

"I hope that this will end my difficulties with the Licensing Department. We always have a lot of work ahead of us and I am looking forward to our effective cooperation which will see Lancaster continue to have an outstandingly friendly, efficient and safe taxi service at its beck and call at all those difficult times.

"I would like to thank the National Private Hire & Taxi Association for their continued support throughout, without which I might still be out of a job I love."

Commenting on the case, Lancaster City Council issued the following statement:

“It should be noted that the appeal against revocation was successful, but only to the extent that the judge felt that the appropriate penalty to mark the continuing ill-behaviour was three months' suspension rather than revocation.  Because part of that suspension had in effect been served by the implementation of the revocation, only a further 14 days' suspension was imposed.

Mr. Kay's badge has been returned to him. Mr. Kay has 21 days to appeal the judge’s decision to suspend him for a further 14 days.  If Mr. Kay does not appeal, his badge will need to be returned whilst he serves the 14 day suspension that was imposed by the judge.

Cllr John Harrison, Chair of the Licensing Regulatory Committee, said:

"As licensing authority, Lancaster City Council's main concern in making decisions with regard to taxi licences is public safety.  Its Licensing Regulatory Committee take all factors into consideration before making those decisions.   However, licence holders do have a right to appeal against decisions made by the council and Mr. Kay has exercised this right."