CB was a hard-working and successful taxi driver, regularly working late, taking people back to their homes after their nights out. Like all taxi drivers he had to work within the terms of his private hire and/ or hackney carriage licence. (The former “minicab” licence only allows charging for pre-booked journeys, the latter also allows a driver to take passengers for reward without notice i.e. from the roadside.)
Sadly complaints were received about CB. From fellow taxi drivers and from the public. His licences were revoked by the council under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, his livelihood lost. The complaints were serious and the initial reaction from the council understandable; numerous allegations of racism and threats of violence coming from other drivers, and a serious complaint from a female passenger. CB hotly disputed the complaints and appealed the council’s decision.
On closer analysis the motives of the complainants became more complex, their reliability highly questionable. Other drivers had in fact made racist comments to CB, himself an Iranian national. The threats of violence were unfounded, with photographic evidence and covert recordings from CB in relation to several of the allegations undermining the prosecution case. (Against this the sight of a person in an argument taking photographs is unlikely to defuse a situation, or increase someone’s popularity). But as the council admitted, the complaints from the other taxi drivers would not have led to the licence revocation on their own.
This left the complaint from the lone female, a very serious allegation from a woman who had been on her own, late at night. She said CB had driven too fast, told her she should pay with sexual favours on her next journey when she had been a few pence short of the fare and then kept the phone she mistakenly left behind. The complainant and her father came to court. They had no apparent reason to lie. Yet the circumstances of the complaint unravelled on cross-examination: she had not been upset about the phone on the night, but had been upset about a relationship breaking up; she had stayed up late, but not reported the loss of the phone; and when she had reported the phone being lost she had made no mention of any sexual complaint. She had also left out key aspects of her account from her witness statement, with her account changing in material respects when she gave evidence. As the court concluded, she was an honest (well-meaning), but unreliable witness. They allowed the appeal.
CB was also awarded some of his costs, a rare step in licensing appeals in the absence of bad faith by the local authority. The costs decision was even judicially reviewed by them, but without success.
This was a case where an unrepresented appellant might have rejected the allegations against him, but would perhaps have failed to show the unreliability of the witnesses or present himself as a fit and proper person to hold a licence – the strength of feeling and importance of the case to his livelihood undermining the presentation of his case: in short an example of when professional representation was the difference between success and failure.