Uber has won its appeal against the refusal of a licence in Brighton after the city council’s plea for “sympathy” was rejected by a district judge.
The taxi hailing app’s bid to renew its taxi operator licence was refused in May by a three councillor licensing panel which cited Uber’s use of out of area drivers and a data breach
Uber appealed and strongly contested the decision at a one-day hearing at Brighton Magistrates’ court two weeks ago.
Brighton and Hove City Council’s brief Leo Charalambides argued that the app’s use of out of area drivers undermined the city’s ability to enforce its local rules, which include mandatory CCTV and a minimum number of wheelchair accessible vehicles.
But Uber’s barrister Philip Kolvin QC said that it was not in the court’s power to dismiss the appeal on those grounds – and today, the court agreed with him.
District Judge Tessa Szagun said: “I cannot concede to the plea to “sympathy” put forward on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council. I am bound by the legal framework and authorities as clearly and comprehensively set out above.
“Any changes to this are a matter for parliament.
“The law is equally clear in respect of the exercise of discretion in attaching conditions to licences. Stewart v Perth and Kinross DC 2004 in which it was held to be unlawful to impose conditions on a car dealer to regulate the terms of their trade. ‘…discretion is not unlimited. The authority is not at liberty to use it for an ulterior object, however desirable that object may seem to be in the public interest’.
“This is precisely what I am being invited to do and which the case law expressly prohibits.”
She said that Uber had been “responsible and collaborative” in negotiating with the council, and that Uber head of cities Fred Jones’ evidence had been “measured and reflective”.
She said: “On the issue of CCTV, they have responded proactively to the debate and are contributing to the provision of information to inform future decisions. They have agreed to enforce any mandated requirement.
“There is no evidence of any difficulty arising from the investigation of any complaint made against an Uber driver due to absence of CCTV.
“Indeed there is an absence of any complaint or objection from any public protection authority or elsewhere, other than trade competitors.”
Chair of the licensing panel, Councillor Jackie O’Quinn, said: “We’re very disappointed in the court ruling against our decision not to renew Uber Britannia Ltd’s (UBL) Private Hire Operator Licence.
“When making licensing decisions, our priority is the safety of residents and visitors, and that’s why we set a high level of conditions. All Brighton and Hove private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers in the city operate under the same licences and guidelines contained in the Blue Book and undergo the same background checks, whichever company they drive for.
“Part of our decision not to renew was due to concerns that UBL had not kept to the spirit of the commitment it made to keep to our standards and only use Brighton and Hove licensed drivers. The court felt that Uber met the requirements under national legislation.
“UBL’s operating model is a challenge to local licensing conditions and the current licensing regulations. We have raised concerns that the legislation has not kept pace with the changing nature of the licensed trade with central government.”