Taxi and private hire licence holder must be fit and proper people in order to hold a licence.  Assessing the fitness of a licence holder or applicant involves a number of assessments including those relating to the medical fitness of a licence holder.

The vast majority of licensing authorities have adopted the Group 2 medical standards of fitness.

In this article I will look at the legal basis for medical fitness, briefly look at the Group 2 medical standards of fitness and make a case for suspensions rather than revocations and refusals in cases of medical fitness.

Legal basis for medical fitness

Before considering medical fitness specifically within the context of taxi and private hire licensing, I will briefly consider the more general legal basis for the medical standards.

The Secretary of State for Transport, acting through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), has the responsibility of ensuring all licence holders are fit to drive.

The legal basis of fitness to drive in the UK lies in the following legislation:

  • The European third Directive on driving licences (2006/126/EC) – which came into effect here on 19 January 2013
  • The Road Traffic Act 1988
  • The Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999 (as amended).

According to Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988:

  • A relevant disability is any condition which is either prescribed in regulations or any other disability where driving is likely to be a source of danger to the public. A driver who is suffering from a relevant disability must not be licensed, but there are some prescribed disabilities where licensing is permitted provided certain conditions are met.
  • Prospective disabilities are any medical conditions that, because of their progressive or intermittent nature, may develop into relevant disabilities in time. Examples are Parkinson’s disease and early dementia. A driver with a prospective disability may be granted a driving licence for up to 5 years, after which renewal requires further medical review.

Higher standards for taxi licensing

Complying with the basic medical fitness standards set by the DVLA is important because contravention of these may result in the loss of a DVLA driving licence.  Section 51 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, for obvious reasons, explicitly states that:

For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section a person is authorised to drive a motor car if—

  1. he holds a licence granted under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (not being a provisional licence) authorising him to drive a motor car, or
  2. he is authorised by virtue of section 99A(1) [F7or section 109(1)] of that Act to drive in Great Britain a motor car.

Whilst the DVLA has overall responsibility for the general medical fitness to drive, in terms of taxi and private hire licensing, there is greater discretion on the medical standards that apply.

Responsibility for determining any higher standards and medical requirements in taxi and private hire licensing, over and above the driver licensing requirements, rests with Transport for London in the Metropolitan area, or the Local Authority in all other areas.

Part of the overall assessment as to whether a licence holder, or applicant, is a fit and proper person, consideration of their medical fitness is also taken into account.

By virtue of section 57 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, licensing authorities have the power to require a licence holders or applicant to submit to them information “…as they may reasonably consider necessary to enable them to determine whether the licence should be granted and whether conditions should be attached to any such licence…” 

This includes the power for a licensing authority to require a licence holder or applicant:

  1. to produce a certificate signed by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that he is physically fit to be the driver of a hackney carriage or a private hire vehicle; and
  2. whether or not such a certificate has been produced, to submit to examination by a registered medical practitioner selected by the district council as to his physical fitness to be the driver of a hackney carriage or a private hire vehicle.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) best practice guidance to licensing authorities makes it clear that it is best practice for higher standards to apply to taxi and private hire licensing.  It states:

It is clearly good practice for medical checks to be made on each driver before the initial grant of a licence and thereafter for each renewal. There is general recognition that it is appropriate for taxi/PHV drivers to have more stringent medical standards than those applicable to normal car drivers because:

  • they carry members of the general public who have expectations of a safe journey;
  • they are on the road for longer hours than most car drivers; and
  • they may have to assist disabled passengers and handle luggage.

Licensing policy & best practice

The greater discretion and higher standards for medical fitness in taxi and private hire licensing is set by individual licensing authorities who will set their own medical standards for drivers.   The acceptable local medical standard is normally defined in local licensing policy. 

Whilst medical fitness standard still vary between licensing authorities, the DVLA’s Group 2 medical standards is upheld as best practice and is being adopted more widely. 

Before I look at the group 2 medical standards in a bit more detail, one important point about licensing policy I need to highlights is discretion in decision making.

It is a long established statutory principle that policy cannot and should not fetter the discretion of decision makers.  These simply means that whilst licensing authorities should be guided by its licensing policies and not arbitrarily deviate for it, the overarching principle that each case should be determined on its own merits remains.

Determining each case on its merits means that it should be within the remit of the licensing authority to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to come to a conclusion that may be different from their own policy.

It may be therefore that a licence holder or applicant may have a medical condition that makes them unfit to be licensed according to policy but the policy position should not be absolute.  There must be room for discretion and considering cases on their individual merits.

By way of illustration, I recently represented a London green badge taxi driver whose licence was revoked partly on the ground of medical concerns to do with previous cancer treatment and heart fitness tests.  TfL were disputing the adequacy of Mr AH’s medical reports in applying DVLA Group 2 standards.

I was able to persuade TfL to reverse its decision arguing that their medical concerns were irrelevant relying on proper information from Mr AH’s consultant that explained how TfL were incorrectly applied their own policy.

Group 2 medical standard

In the 2019 DfT Taxi and Private Hire Licensing statistics, the DfT reported that:

“All licensing authorities assess medical fitness for taxi and PHV driver applications. 96% of licensing authorities base the medical fitness assessment on the DVLA Group 2 assessment. 72% of licensing authorities determine medical fitness of an applicant/licensee from the applicant/licensee’s own GP, while 10% use a licensing authority appointed GP/medical professional.”

It is clear that Group 2 medical standards are now the norm for current and prospective licence holders. 

A brief explanation of Group 2 medical standards:

  1. Group 2 medical standards form part of the UK’s medical standards for driver licensing
  2. Group 2 strictly includes large lorries (category C) and buses (category D) but increasingly has been adopted to also apply to the taxi and private hire licensing.
  3. The application to this medical standard to taxi and private hire licensing makes sense since the medical standards for Group 2 drivers are substantially higher than for Group 1.
  4. Group 2 medical standards are accompanied by a comprehensive medical questionnaire that must be completed by the licence holder or applicant’s own GP or another suitably qualified medical professional with access to the licence holder or applicant’s  full medical records.
  5. Whilst local licensing standards vary slightly, generally speaking a group 2 medical form is required on first licensing and then either on each renewal of that licence or at the very least every 5 years up to the age of 65 when the examination will be required every year.

Change in medical fitness

It is very important that licence holders are aware of the requirement to notify a licensing authority of any change to the health that may affect their fitness to hold a taxi or private hire licence.

Although there will be a requirement to undertake a regular medical examination, any changes in between the mandated medical examinations must be reported.  It is always advisable to see medical advice in the first instance so that licence holders are equipped with the right information when disclosing health issues to their licensing authority.

Licensing officers are of course not medical experts and they are unlikely to make a judgement call on the medical fitness of a licence holder.  There will therefore be a heavy reliance on correspondence from a medical doctor to confirm whether a licence holder medical condition is likely to impair their ability to drive a licenced vehicle safety.

It is also worth bearing in mind that section 57 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 gives licensing authorities the power to require additional medical examinations and information to be submitted. 

Case for suspension

Medical fitness presents a more unique situation with regards to actions that can be taken by licensing authorities.

It is a well-established legal principle that sanctions in relation to taxi and private hire licensing should not be punitive. This means that decisions to revoke, refuse or suspend a licence should not be made as a means of punishing the licence holder.  This is because taxi and private hire licensing is concerned with public safety and whether a licence holder or applicant is fit and proper.  Where they are not so, they should not hold a licence and where they are, they should hold a licence.

With the above in mind, there is a temptation for licensing authorities to deal with medical fitness in the same way as, for example, offences or complaints which usually results in a full refusal or revocation.  However, medical fitness presents a more unique situation that may make a full refusal or revocation disproportionate.

Often, medical conditions are either treatable or temporary.  In these cases, a temporary suspension will be a more proportionate response and does not offend the decision handed down in the case of Singh v Cardiff which is often cited as an obstacle.  It does not offend Singh v Cardiff because a temporary suspension on medical grounds is not an interim measure in this case.

Rights of appeal

As with any other decision of a licensing authority to refuse, revoke or suspend a licence, there is a right of appeal.

Bearing in mind the case for suspension, licence holders and applicants are strongly recommended to consider an appeal in cases where a decision to revoke a licence was made in light of a medical fitness issue.  Often there is sufficient mitigation in cases involving medical fitness to remove the need for such a draconian sanction.

It is important as always for licence holders to seek legal advice when considering an appeal to ensure the appeal is submitted on time and the grounds are clearly set out.

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence.

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