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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Top Leeds lawyer explains what the suitability policy means for taxi drivers in West Yorkshire

Taxi drivers from across West Yorkshire are concerned about the suitability policy that all drivers must go through to get their black cab license. Here is what a top lawyer has to say.

‘Suitability and Conviction’ policy that councils across the region have introduced.

The policy determines the suitability of applications and licences as drivers in the taxi and private hire licensing. It was brought in by Bradford Council in 2019 and Leeds followed suit in 2020.

Following the protest in Leeds City Hall, the Leeds Private Hire Driver Organisation (LPHDO) are calling for a strike on Monday 17 January, for 24 hours for all taxi drivers in Leeds due to the “unfair” and “discriminatory” suitability policy.

Protesters at the LPHDO demonstration on Wednesday.

Chairman of LPHDO, Ahmed Hussain, who has worked as a taxi driver for 20 years, organised the protest on Wednesday and the call for a strike on Monday. He said: “This policy is racist. In 2020, we did a petition with 3000 signatures, but the policy was introduced without us knowing.

“Then the pandemic came. The policy was split in two, with the suitability policy introduced first and a consultation on the conviction policy coming. Why was it split in two?

“Why is the suitability policy only impacting hackney carriage and private hire drivers? Surely, taxi drivers are not the only people dealing with the public. If it is for public safety, then why hasn’t the policy passed for other drivers? This is why we are saying it is a racist policy because it impacts the Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic community who hold 95% of taxi licenses.”

The taxi driver added: “We are a voluntary organisation, we spend our time, energy, and money purely for the betterment of the public who use private hire, those drivers who are in the taxi trade, trying to protect our future. We want to be treated fairly; we are just doing our job.

“We get enough abuse from the public when they’ve had a few drinks, we do not need to be abused by the councils anymore, enough is enough, it has been going on for a long time, it needs to stop.

“Hence the protest and the strike. We apologise to the public who will be impacted by the strike on Monday but there we’ve got no other choice to carry on and do the protests.”

Director of Baildon taxis and head of Better Taxi Action Group, Asif Shah.

The managing director of Baildon Taxis and head of Better Taxi Action Group, Asif Shah, has also been outspoken about the suitability policy.

Mr Shah said: “The suitability impacts all of us in West Yorkshire. The suitability policy has been brought in by the different councils over the past few years. In Wakefield, it is having damaging effects. It is taking livelihoods away from families unfairly.

“If you get six points on your licence as a taxi driver you can potentially get banned from the job for seven years, which the trade thinks is very unfair.

“Bus drivers and school transport drivers are not subjected to these conditions, so taxi drivers are concerned about why we are being targeted.

“Some of the unions have described it as a ‘racist policy’. In Wakefield, a case was taken to the Magistrates Court and the judge was sympathetic, but his hands were tied because it is a local law, and he can’t challenge it.”

Asian Standard has reached out to Luke Patel, the head of Dispute Resolution and partner at Blacks Solicitors LLP, to explain what the suitability policy is and what it means for taxi drivers.

Luke Patel, partner at Blacks Solicitors in Leeds.

The solicitor advised that the council must ensure that applicants or licence holders are and remain fit and proper persons to hold a licence. Councils can consider previous convictions, cautions, complaints, failures to comply with licence conditions, and the time elapsed since these were committed.

The solicitor also explained that in determining safety and suitability the council is entitled to consider all matters concerning that applicant or licensee. This includes not only their behaviour whilst working in the hackney carriage or private hire trade but also their entire character including, but not limited to, their attitude and temperament.

Once a licence has been granted there is a continuing requirement on the part of a licensee to maintain their safety and suitability to meet the ‘fit and proper’ test. The Council is concerned to ensure that an individual does not pose a threat to the public, the council’s obligations to safeguard children and vulnerable adults are met, and the public is protected from dishonest persons.

In Bradford, potential or renewing taxi drivers can be barred from the industry for five years if they are caught using a hand-held phone or mobile device, and seven years if they are involved with a major traffic or vehicle-related offence.  The cabbies can also receive a three-year ban for minor car-related offences.

Leeds has a similar policy but is more lenient with minor vehicle-related offences. Leeds Council will only suspend or revoke a license when the number of current points on a licence exceeds 12 points and will reconsider an application when the points have been reduced.

Leeds Council is slightly more lenient than Bradford’s.

Mr Patel said: “The policies published on the Leeds and Bradford Council websites are almost identical, but licence holders should comply with the policy issued by the Council which issued the licence.

“It appears Leeds Council is more lenient on this point stating that ‘Convictions for minor traffic offences should not prevent you from proceeding with an application or holding a licence. However, if the number of current points on your DVLA licence exceeds 12 points then your application will be refused, or the current licence suspended or revoked.’”

Both councils have the discretion to deny a taxi license or renewal of a licence to a driver who has gone through the court system but has been found not guilty of an offence.

Mr Patel added: “The Councils have the discretion to consider a licensee/potential licensee’s character and so quashed charges, or acquittals could be considered.”

The policy for both council’s states that ‘In the case of a new applicant who has been charged with any offences and is awaiting trial, the determination will be deferred until the trial has been completed or the charges were withdrawn’, suggesting that quashed charges or acquittals may not be an absolute obstacle to holding a licence.

Mr Patel added: “It is understandable that the policies affect a large body of taxi drivers who are from the Asian ethnic minority. A judicial review enables a person (or group of people) to request the High Court to review a decision made by a public body, such as a local council, to seek a declaration that a policy is unlawful and ask the Court to quash that policy.

“However, as the remedy is discretionary, even if it is established that a public body has erred wrong in law it does not automatically entitle the person to the remedy he seeks.

Drivers may need to go through a judicial review to quash the policy.

“The court will consider all the facts in the case and consider the general opinion and impact the final decision may have on the public.

“A judicial review claim is a complex process and any action against the local Council would first require a detailed review and scrutiny of its policies to establish any unlawfulness.

“There may be other principles in play such as a claim under the Equality Act 2010, which is concerned with discrimination in respect of specific ‘protected characteristics’ such as race, religion, or belief.

“Again, such claims are not easy to prove as the body of individuals concerned in this case may not be prevented from undertaking their work because of their protected characteristics. This is not a case where a taxi driver could say that they are unable to follow the Council policies due to their “protected characteristics”.

“It is primarily previous criminal convictions or a high number of license points which would deem a driver not to be ‘fit and proper’.

“Public safeguarding is the key objective of the councils’ taxi licensing policies and those who undertake the responsibility of taxi driving are required to be ‘fit and proper’ to ensure the safety and protection of others.

“After all, surely it could only be for the good of the profession and assure the paying public who use the service that they are in safe hands. As in all professions, those who adhere to a high standard of professionalism with principles such as health, safety, and the wellbeing of their customers in mind, in addition to adhering to laws and regulations imposed by the authorities, are the most likely to be successful.”




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