Can a committee or court decide on whether a taxi or private hire driver is fit and proper based on hearsay evidence?

Hearsay evidence is often a very contentious issue particularly in the context of (quasi)judicial matters.  These are often cases where a licensing authority or court is making a determination on the fitness and propriety of a taxi or private hire driver.

What is hearsay evidence?

Hearsay evidence can be defined as a statement made but – not by a witness giving a personal account – which is relied upon in court to prove the truth of a matter or case. Hearsay evidence may be first hand, in other words when a witness relates what they directly heard someone else say or can be second hand, or in other hand, when the witness relates what they were told that someone else said.

Hearsay evidence and licensing

A recent appeal case ruled in favour of a licensing authority who revoked a private hire driver’s licence based on hearsay evidence.

Three Rivers District Council decided to revoke the licence of a private hire driver following complaints that the driver made inappropriate approaches to teenage girls.  It is worth noting that the driver in question had never been convicted or been arrested for any criminal offences.

Notwithstanding, his licence was revoked.

On appeal the private hire driver sought to persuade the court that the council had relied on uncorroborated and anonymous hearsay evidence which he was unable to challenge through cross-examination and that the allegations were vague and for the most part historic.

The district judge disagreed with this line of argument in turning down the appeal. 

To some extent the outcome of this case turned on the individual facts of the case and by no means has any authority on the matter been established as this was a lower court.

However, what this case does illustrate is that (quasi)judicial bodies can, and is willing, to entertain hearsay evidence in taxi and private hire cases.

Approach with care

On the whole however hearsay evidence is generally treated with some caution.  Often hearsay evidence is difficult substantiate and there is more often than not no opportunity to test the evidence or statements.

Since taxi and private hire licensing is determined on the civil burden of proof – balance of probabilities – hearsay evidence is easier to argue.  For example, in the case referred to above, the private hire driver had a history of complaints of a similar nature.  Whilst none of these were ever proven in a court of law and resulted in a charge of conviction, the fact that there was a pattern of behaviour was sufficient to allow the hearsay evidence and the appeal to be turned down.

As mentioned, this case does by no means set a precedence and there are long established legal principles established in higher courts that sets out the correct procedure that must be followed when hearsay evidence is submitted.

The point I wanted to make here is that taxi and private hire licence holders must not be complacent when faced with hearsay evidence when their fitness and propriety is tested.  It is very important to seek expert legal advice from the outset of your case.

If you are facing legal or licensing issues relating to your taxi or private hire licence, contact Taxi Defence Barristers today for a free, no obligation assessment of your case.

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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