Taxi Defence Barristers are often contacted by taxi and private hire applicants and licence holders who were not represented before licensing committees or panels and subsequently had their licences revoked, suspended or refused.  Applicants and licence holders do underestimate the significance of a licensing committee or panel hearings.  When licences are revoked, refused or suspended by licensing committee or panel, appeals can be drawn out, expensive and stressful.

In our experience, a robust approach to licensing committees can be beneficial for a taxi or private hire applicant or licence holders.  In this article we will consider the significance of a licensing committee or panel hearing (with reference to remote hearings), what applicants or licence holders can do to ensure best outcomes, the importance of legal representation and briefly look at the appeals process.

Licensing Committees

Council decision are either made by the full council of councillors or delegated to smaller committees.  In the case of taxi and private hire licensing, decision making is usually delegated to a licensing or regulatory committee.  Licensing committees are delegated with a range of decision-making powers including these relating to whether licence applicants or licence holders are fit and proper people.

Licensing committees must be quorate in order for their decision-making powers to be lawful.  This means that a minimum number of councillors, specified in the council’s rules, must be present at a hearing.

These committees operate in a quasi-judicial way.  This simply means that these committees have the same powers and are governed by the same procedures as if they were a court of law or a judge.  This means that a licensing committee is obliged to objectively determine facts and draw conclusions from them so as to provide the basis of an official action such as to refuse an application or to revoke a licence.  This also includes a duty to provide clear and comprehensive reasons for decisions they have reached.

Licence applicants and licence holders can be referred to a licensing committee for a range of reasons and these will differ depending on each individual council (as licensing policies differ between licensing authorities).  If, however, you are referred to a licensing committee, it is important you understand your rights, understand what is likely to happen and what to expect.

Your rights

Right to be heard before a decision is taken

The fact that licensing committees operate in a quasi-judicial way, means that the rules of natural justice will also apply to decisions made by it.  The first rule of natural justice is that people must be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to defend themselves.  In terms of taxi and private hire licensing, this means that licence holders or applicants must be given the opportunity to attend a hearing and to address the licensing committee before a decision is made in relation to their licence or application.

Right to know the case against you

It follows from the above therefore also that a licence holder or applicant for a licence must know the case against them.  It is after all not possible to exercise the right to be heard if you do not know what the case against you is.  This right also relates to having access to supporting evidence and documents. Often licence holders or applicants rely on officer’s reports to prepare but fail to also ask for supporting documents and other evidence that supports the case against them.

Right to a fair hearing

The second rule of natural justice is that licence holders or applicants have the right to a fair hearing.  This is also a right under human rights legislation.  This means that licensing committee hearings must be free of bias and councillors who are making decisions about your licence or application must not have a prejudicial interest in your case.

Right to be represented

A licence holder or applicant has the right to be represented before a licensing committee.  This is an important point because often cases against licence holders or applicants can be complicated taking into account the legislation, local policy and the individual circumstances of cases.

Practical advice for licence holders

  1. Don’t panic: A review of a taxi or private hire licence before a licensing committee can be very upsetting and stressful. It is important not to panic however. A licence review before a committee is not as formal as it may sound or appear. Give yourself time to come to terms with the fact that you have to appear before a committee read the correspondence properly and give due consideration to the benefits of being represented.
  1. Preparation is key: Whilst the prospect is daunting, there is a lot you can do to prepare. Read the correspondence you receive, read the licensing policy of your council and make sure you understand why you have been called to appear before the committee/panel. The accompanying officer’s report should be useful as a reference to the relevant policy sections and other relevant information.
  1. Know the procedure: Licensing committee are conducted following a set procedure. You are entitled to be given a copy of this procedure which is important to know what is going to happen at the hearing and what opportunities you have to address the licensing committee and speak in support of your case.
  1. Seek legal advice: Taxi and private hire licensing is complex and in some cases, the reasons why people are referred to a committee can also be complex in nature. Losing your licence, or having your application refused, is significant. Expert legal advice and representation will without a doubt put you at a far greater advantage of a positive outcome.
  1. Don’t be late and look the part: This may seem trivial but make sure you arrive in good time. Being late may give the licensing committee members the wrong impression of you and how serious you appear to be taking the matter.
  1. With or without you: A licensing committee can make decisions about your licence (and livelihood) in your absence. It is therefore important to make sure you attend regardless of how you feel about the hearing.  Where you are unable to attend, you must inform the licensing committee and you must also request a deferment.
  1. You will have another chance: If the licensing committee decision goes against you, do bear in mind you have a right of appeal which will present you with another opportunity to make your case.
  1. You are not in trial: Although licensing committee act in a quasi-judicial way, they are not a court of law and you are not on trial. Licensing committee operate in a much more informal way. Notwithstanding the set procedure, licensing committee are usually discussion lead meetings and therefore much less formal than a court of law.
  1. Support your case: In addition to verbally addressing the licensing committee and answering any questions that may have for you, you can also submit evidence to further support your case of what you want to put across.
  1. Patience is key: Finally, it is important that you remain calm at all times. As I said before, a review of your taxi or private hire licence before a licensing committee/panel can be very upsetting and stressful but it is important that you remain calm.

Remote hearings

Traditionally licensing committee hearings are held in person.  However, with the current Covid pandemic, the norm has become remote licensing committee hearings and this will be the case for the foreseeable future. 

It is important that taxi and private hire licence holders and applicants are able to effectively engage with committees remotely.  In the April PHTM edition, you can read a more extensive article on remote hearings.  Here I wanted to remind readers of a few important points to remember on how to deal with remote hearings.

Remote hearings can often times be difficult to manage if you are not used to them.  From experience, we understand how stressful a normal hearing in person can be, however, remote hearings add additional layers of complication that can add to the stress and anxiety felt by taxi and private hire licence holders and particularly new applicants who will be less familiar with the licensing process.

It is always advisable that you seek specialist legal advice when facing legal difficulties with your taxi or private hire licence but, this type of legal advice and representation is particularly important for remote hearings.

Here are some practical matters licence holders and applicants would need to consider when dealing with remote hearings:

  1. Documents – If you will be relying on documents such as statements, character references and other documentary evidence, make sure you serve these on the licensing committee/panel well in advance of the meeting. This is necessary to ensure they have had copies distributed to them and have had time to read them.
  1. Procedure – Be clear on the committee/panel procedure for conducting its business remotely. Remote meetings will not be conducted in the same way as if they were in person. It is equally important that you log on to any remote facilities in good time before the meeting starts. Logging on late would be disruptive to the meeting.
  1. Technology – Following on from the above, you have to also understand the technology you are using. For video conferencing tools, make sure you follow any instructions given on procedure and etiquette and most importantly you need to use the technology to be able to address the committee/panel clearly and be able to answer questions put to you.
  1. Do not be afraid to ask – Taxi and private hire licence holders and new applicant can severely be impacted by committee/panel decisions. It is therefore important, particularly with remote hearings, to ask questions. No committee/panel will penalise a licence holder or applicant for asking questions if, for example, you are not clear on the process, cannot hear people speaking to you or if you are having trouble with following conversation remotely.  It is better to ask than face injustice and possible costly appeals.
  1. Environment – If you are represented by a legal specialist, you will most probably be represented by them from an office location where there will be no disruption. If you chose not to be represented, you need to carefully chose your environment to ensure you eliminate any possible distractions during the committee/panel hearing; a quiet room or potentially a location away from your house.
  1. Appearance – Appearance matters even for remote hearings. Approach and prepare for a remote hearing as if it was a meeting in person.
  1. Your rights – Your rights are not affected because a licensing committee is held remotely rather than in person including the right to be represented.

Please contact Taxi Defence Barristers in the first instance and at the earliest opportunity for specialist advice and representation.  We are setup to deal with remote hearings and able to assist licence holders and applicants with remote hearings and representation.

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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