Gerald Gouriet QC looks at the issues that arise with the late renewal of taxi drivers’ licences.
It is sometimes said that if a taxi (hackney carriage) driver outside London applies to renew his driver’s licence, but the licensing authority fails to determine his application before the licence expires, he must stop working as a taxi driver until the authority makes a decision. A recent taxi-licensing appeal in Nottingham Crown Court suggests that the issue may not always be so clear-cut.
Different licensing regimes
Until the hotch-potch of taxi licensing legislation is reformed, there is one law for a London taxi driver, and another for drivers in the provinces.
In Greater London: Section 17(7) of The Transport Act 1985 provides –
17(7) Where a person holds a licence which is in force when he applies for a new licence in substitution for it, the existing licence shall continue in force until the application for the new licence, or any appeal under this section in relation to that application, is disposed of, but without prejudice to the exercise in the meantime of any power of the licensing authority to revoke the existing licence.
Outside Greater London: There is no ‘continue in force’ provision the equivalent of section 17(7) of the Transport Act 1985. When a licence expires, it expires, even if the licensee has applied for the renewal of it.
James Button  offers an alternative to the enforced unemployment of a provincial taxi driver while he waits for a decision from the licensing authority, in the issue of a temporary licence to bridge the gap between expiry and delayed renewal. But that solution relies on the willingness of the licensing authority to be helpful – which, as the Nottingham Crown Court case demonstrates, cannot always be guaranteed.
Cartledge v Gedling Borough Council
Mr. Cartledge, a licensed hackney carriage driver, had applied for the renewal of his driver’s licence well before it expired. His application was not granted until 14 days after expiry. A council officer saw him standing by his cab in a public street the day before his driver’s licence was renewed, and Mr. Cartledge agreed he had been driving it. There was no suggestion he had been plying for hire or taking passengers. The council prosecuted him under section 46 Town Police Clauses Act 1847 for driving a hackney carriage without holding a licence. He was convicted in the magistrates’ court and appealed to Nottingham Crown Court.
The material Facts
- Mr. Cartledge had been a licensed hackney carriage driver since 2011 and a licensed private hire vehicle driver since 1987, holding a succession of back-to-back driver’s licences renewed annually without any issues arising. He was also a licensed PCV (Passenger Carrying Vehicle) driver, allowing him to drive any kind of bus or coach. His dual hackney carriage and private hire vehicle driver’s licence was renewed on 22 August 2016, valid for three years until 21 August 2019
- On 24 April, the respondent council sent the appellant a letter to remind him that his current Hackney Carriage drivers’ licence was due for renewal on 22 August 2019.
- On 10 June 2019 Mr. Cartledge telephoned the number given in the letter and made an appointment to attend the council offices on 19 June 2019. He duly attended and brought with him a completed application form and various documentation required by the council for the renewal of his licence. His application was not accepted, however, due to his not having current safeguarding refresher training.
- The following day (June 20) he telephoned the council’s ‘Customer Services’ number to arrange his refresher training. He was offered either 12 July or 16 August as the only dates available for this course but was unable to take 12 July because he was already booked to drive a school coach trip on that day. The training was arranged for the morning of 16 August.
- Mr. Cartledge then telephoned the council’s licensing division and requested that he be given an appointment to renew his hackney carriage licence on the afternoon following his refresher training; but the request was declined, the reason given being that “appointments are not held on Fridays”. An appointment was made for Monday 19 August.
- He completed the training on the morning of Friday, 16 August. Confirmation of his having satisfactorily completed the training was emailed to the council’s licensing division by the course provider.
- He returned to the council offices on Monday 19 August. He re-submitted the completed application form and the required documentation, but still his licence was not renewed.
- The licence expired on 21 August. He drove his hackney carriage on 4 September. His licence was renewed on 5 September. The council prosecuted him for driving a hackney carriage on 4 September without holding a hackney carriage driver’s licence.
The Crown Court decision
Mr. Cartledge’s appeal against conviction was allowed: the judge, sitting with two magistrates, found that the proper inference from the agreed facts was that the application to renew had been refused: Mr. Cartledge had asked for a licence to take the place of his current licence on its expiry and had not been given what he had asked for.
The refusal triggered section 77(2) of LGMPA 1976, which (so far as material) provides -
“If any requirement, refusal or other decision of a district council against which a right of appeal is conferred by this Act… makes it unlawful for any person to carry on a business which he was lawfully carrying on up to the time of the requirement, refusal or decision…
… then, until the time for appealing has expired, or, when an appeal is lodged, until the appeal is disposed of or withdrawn or fails for want of prosecution… that person may carry on that business.”
The council’s case was that section 77(2) was irrelevant. The renewal application (they said) had not been refused: on the date the appellant’s licence expired the council had yet to make a decision on his application. The council’s ‘Respondent’s Notice’ said:-
Section 77(2) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 is not relevant to the issue. No requirement, refusal or other decision had been taken for which there was a right of appeal conferred by the Act. So proper construction of this section is not relevant in our submission.
Against that, it was submitted on Mr. Cartledge’s behalf that to make sense of the appeal provisions in the LGMPA 1976 it is necessary to give the word “refusal” a less literal, more purposive construction. Where an application to renew a hackney carriage driver’s licence is made during the currency of the existing licence, a failure to renew the licence by the time it expires should be treated as a refusal to renew it for the purposes of the section 77(2) LGMPA 1976, in order to avoid absurd consequences which cannot have been the intention of Parliament.
The ‘Absurd Consequences’ Rule of Statutory Interpretation
It is a presumption of statutory interpretation that Parliament intends to act reasonably: see IRC v Hinchy  AC 748 at p 767 per Lord Reid. In R v Central Valuation Officer  UKHL 20 at 116, Lord Millet cited Hinchy and continued:
“The Courts will presume that Parliament did not intend a statute to have consequences which are objectionable or undesirable; or absurd; or unworkable or impracticable; or merely inconvenient; or anomalous or illogical; or futile or pointless.”
The literalist construction of section 77(2) LGMPA advanced by the respondent in the Cartledge appeal had a number of such consequences:
- A hackney carriage driver whose renewal application is refused before the licence expires would be in a better position than a driver whose renewal application is granted after the licence has expired. The former may continue to drive his vehicle for ‘the appeal period’ (and if he appeals until the appeal is disposed of) even after his licence expires; but a driver who has applied to renew his licence but has not yet been given a decision by the time the licence expires would have to stop driving until the council determined his application.
- Even a driver whose licence is revoked for cause would be, on the respondent’s construction, better-off than a driver who is waiting for a decision on an uncontroversial renewal application made before the licence expires.
- The anomaly goes further than merely disallowing a driver to drive his hackney carriage while waiting for a decision on his renewal application. If the council’s 5 September decision had been to refuse Mr. Cartledge’s application to renew, he could of course have appealed the decision (LGMPA section 61(3)), but he could not have carried on as a hackney carriage driver pending determination of the appeal (section 77(2)(b)(ii)) because – on the respondent’s construction – since 22 August he would not have been “lawfully carrying on [his business] up to the time of the… decision”.
It was argued on Mr. Cartledge’s behalf that it would be irrational to give a hackney carriage driver who has applied to renew his licence while it is current the right to carry on working pending appeal if his renewal application is refused before the licence expires, but to deny him that right if his application is refused after the licence expires. An arbitrary dispensation of the right to work is unlikely to have been the intention of Parliament, but if it were one would expect to see express language to that effect.
Whether the decision in Mr. Cartledge’s appeal is restricted to the particular facts of his case or is of more general application (as this article suggests it is), will no doubt be determined if similar cases come before the courts.
There is nothing unusual about a licensee who applies to renew his licence before it expires enjoying the benefit of the licence pending determination of his application. As noted above, a London taxi driver has that privilege. The fact that Section 17 of The Transport Act 1985 applies only to London is perhaps suggestive of Parliament’s being satisfied that the position outside London was already satisfactorily covered by section 77(2) of the LGMPA 1976. It is unlikely that Parliament intended to create a North/South divide!
A street trader enjoys the same entitlement. Street trading is regulated by the LGMPA 1982. Schedule 4, paragraph 6(10) provides –
If a licence-holder applies for renewal of his licence before the date of its expiry, it shall remain valid… until the grant by the council of a new licence with the same principal terms.
Even the operator of a sex shop or lap dancing club has that security. Schedule 3, paragraph 11(1) of the LGMPA 1982 provides -
Where, before the date of expiry of a licence, an application has been made for its renewal, it shall be deemed to remain in force notwithstanding that the date has passed until the withdrawal of the application or its determination by the appropriate authority.
It would be odd indeed if Parliament intended a provincial taxi driver to be forced into unemployment while waiting for a licensing authority to reach a decision on the renewal of his licence, whilst giving the licensee of a lap dancing club the benefits of his licence for as long as the authority takes to make up its mind.
 Button on Taxis (fourth edition) @ 10.156