Black cab drivers lose legal challenge against Uber’s London licence

Black cab drivers have lost a High Court challenge against Uber’s London operating licence, after senior judges rejected their claims of bias.

The United Cabbies Group (UCG), which represents Hackney carriage drivers in the capital, argued that Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot’s decision to grant Uber a 15-month permit was “tainted by actual or apparent bias”.

The licence was granted on a “probationary” basis at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in June last year after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew it amid safety concerns.

But the judge said in August she would not hear any further cases involving the ride-hailing app after a newspaper article alleged there were financial connections between her husband, Lord Arbuthnot, and Uber.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot granted a 15-month 'probationary licence' (Nick Ansell/PA)
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot granted a 15-month ‘probationary licence’ at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Nick Ansell/PA)

At a hearing in London earlier this month, lawyers for UCG acknowledged the judge was unaware of any such links but she should have “checked for any potential conflicts of interest” before making her decision on Uber’s licence.

They also argued the decision was not open to her because Uber did not meet the “fit and proper person” criteria necessary for holding a licence.

However, their case was dismissed by Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Mr Justice Supperstone on Tuesday.

Lord Burnett said in his ruling: “Having ascertained all the circumstances bearing on the suggestion that the judge was biased, we consider that those circumstances would not lead a fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that the judge was biased in this case.”

He added that the list of “tenuous connections unearthed” by UCG fell “well short of evidence that would begin to give a fair-minded observer even pause for thought”.

Uber’s application for a five-year licence was rejected by TfL in September 2017.

TfL had a number of concerns with the firm, including failure to report criminal allegations to police and the use of technology to thwart regulators outside the UK.

Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot issued the shorter licence with stringent conditions after concluding the firm had made “rapid and very recent” changes.

In her ruling, she was critical of the firm, saying its failure to inform police of criminal allegations “lacked common sense” and that it had painted a “false picture” of its processes.

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