EXCLUSIVE: Council apologises after court rules taxi driver’s suspension was unlawful
FENLAND District Council last night apologised after a taxi driver won a landmark court ruling that a decision to suspend his operators’ licence was unlawful.
“Sometimes we get things wrong and that has been the case here,” a council spokesman admitted.
The court ruling came after David Drew won an appeal before Fenland magistrates on Friday against the council’s licensing committee decision to withhold his taxi licence for three months.
The committee had attempted to suspend Mr Drew after they claimed he had collected nine penalty points for minor speeding offences.
However magistrates heard that the council’s panel had wrongly taken into account three penalty points that had been removed from Mr Drew’s driving licence by the DVLA because they were more than three years old.
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Michael Sullivan, chairman of the bench, ruled that the decision was illegal since there was “no power for a licence to be withdrawn in this fashion.”
He added: “The decision to withdraw Mr Drew’s licence was an ultra-vires one. His driving record was a very long way short of being unfit and therefore he should be deemed as fit and proper to drive.”
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Magistrates ordered the council to pay Mr Drew’s legal costs of �2,200 but they could also be facing a claim for compensation from a second driver, John Burnham.
Mr Burnham, 73, said he was forced into retirement because he couldn’t afford to appeal against his suspension but has now been encouraged by Mr Drew’s victory.
He said: “The whole scenario has been soul destroying. I couldn’t afford to go to court so lost three months of work and had to sell my car.
“I was forced into an early retirement after I’d given 27 years of loyal service.”
Mr Burnham said: “It was the first time I’d ever been in front of the committee and I was never given a second chance. They were never prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt.
“I was deemed as an unfit and proper person for the three months of my suspension but would have been able to drive for the other nine. It just doesn’t make sense.
“The council’s licensing committee have made up their own rules and it’s been proved in court now that they were illegal and unlawful. It seems like they were making an example of us and I feel like they owe me an apology and the earnings I’ve lost for the last three months.”
Like Mr Drew he had nine points on his licence but he said the committee, when it met earlier this year, had failed to take note that three had already been removed. This was despite both drivers having had their licences renewed shortly before the meeting.
Anthony Schiller, who defended Mr Drew, told magistrates: “The rule is that penalty points last for three years and not four.
“The first decision a local authority has to make is whether someone is a fit and proper person. How can the council withhold Mr Drew’s licence after they had already renewed it?”
“Mr Drew didn’t have more than six points on his licence and shouldn’t have been in front of the committee. He didn’t even come close to losing his driving licence.”
Councillor David Patrick, chairman of the Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers Association, declared the decision a triumph for taxi drivers across Fenland.
Cllr Patrick said: “Justice has been served because the council acted totally illegally in withholding Mr Drew’s licence.
“They didn’t have the power to do what they were doing. The whole licensing system needs to be overhauled, brought up to date and relevant laws should be interpreted correctly. There are great flaws in council policy.
“In the past we have offered to hold meetings with the licensing committee. They now have the perfect opportunity to sit round a table and put things into practice.”
A Fenland Council spokesman said: “Our overriding concern in licensing taxi drivers is to ensure the safety of the public and we look at every case with that in mind.
“Speeding is a major concern for the council when considering taxi licence applications and is a factor we must consider when approving drivers’ licenses. In the process, however, sometimes we get things wrong and that has been the case here.
“We accept that a number of mistakes have been made and we apologise to Mr Drew for the problems that have arisen.
“We understand that a second taxi driver, Mr Burnham, also feels his case was unfairly dealt with and we wish to discuss that with Mr Burnham directly.
“We have been carrying out a complete review of all our procedures and are also bringing in some new software that will help to ensure that similar errors are not repeated in the future.
“At the same time, we have been in discussion with the licensed taxi trade about introducing regular liaison meetings with representatives of the trade to see if there are any other measures that could be taken to improve our service.”