West Lothian taxi driver loses appeal against suspension of licence until 2022
A taxi driver who had his licence suspended by a local authority on the ground of no longer being a fit and proper person to hold such a licence has had his appeal against the decision refused.
Scott McMillan argued that West Lothian Council had made several errors in their consideration of the circumstances leading to his suspension. The suspension was imposed on 18 March 2020 and to last until 11 August 2022.
The appeal was heard in Livingston Sheriff Court by Sheriff Douglas Kinloch.
Threat to public safety
The reason given for the suspension by the respondent’s Licensing Committee was that the appellant was no longer a fit and proper person to hold the licence in terms of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 due to his convictions for a number of road traffic offences from 2016 to 2019. These included driving without insurance, using a mobile telephone while driving, and speeding prosecutions.
The appellant had held a taxi driver’s licence for approximately 20 years. He also held another 16 or so taxi licences allowing him to operate private hire cars driven by other drivers with their own licences. Through a limited company he operated, he had a contract with the respondent to take school children to and from school worth around £1 million.
In December 2019, the respondent’s legal department was asked by Police Scotland to consider the suspension or revocation of the appellant’s taxi driver’s licence on the basis of several convictions that demonstrated he was likely to cause a threat to public safety. Details of the convictions were included in three appendices to the report prepared for the Licensing Committee, some of which were considered to be protected by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
Following submissions from the appellant and Police Scotland, the Committee determined that it was necessary for them to look at the protected convictions in order that justice could be done. Following questioning of the appellant regarding the convictions and the consequences of suspending his licence, the decision to suspend his licence was taken.
The appellant, who represented himself throughout, submitted that his convictions, two of which were actually dealt with by Procurator Fiscal fines, were not as serious as the Committee thought. He argued that the fact that West Lothian Council trusted him to be in charge of the schools contract meant he had to be seen as a fit and proper person, and the Committee were wrong to take the view that the contract had no relevance.
In response, it was submitted for the council that the Committee were entitled to take into account matters which did not result in a criminal conviction such as PF fines. Furthermore, they were entitled to form their own views on the appellant’s explanations regarding his convictions and their seriousness.
High speeds involved
In his decision, Sheriff Kinloch first outlined the issue at hand, saying: “Putting the matter very informally, this appeal can only succeed if the Committee completely misunderstood the law or the facts, acted in a way which resulted in an unfair hearing, or imposed a sanction which was so far ‘over the top’ that it cannot be supported as being reasonable.”
On whether the respondent had misunderstood the law, he said: “It is not suggested by the appellant in his pleadings (or in his written submissions) that the Committee misunderstood the law regarding suspension or revocation of a licence which they had to apply in coming to their decision, and I do not see that this could be suggested.”
As to whether the respondent conducted a fair hearing in terms of natural justice, he said: “There is nothing whatsoever in the information given to me to suggest that the Committee acted in a way which was contrary to natural justice. The appellant, for instance, was given full opportunity to argue his case, and did so. Although he did not speak at length, he was given the opportunity to say all that he wished, and while he might, even as an experienced businessman, have found the whole procedure slightly daunting, he had the opportunity to try and obtain legal representation.”
Regarding the question of whether the Committee exercised their discretion unfairly, he said: “The question before the Committee was the effect of his convictions, and whether they meant that he was not to be seen as a fit and proper person to drive a taxi. Consideration of the wider business relationship which he has with the Council, and whether he conducts that business responsibly, was largely irrelevant in my view to the question of whether he should be allowed to drive a taxi.”
On the Committee’s analysis of the seriousness of the convictions, he said: “While in the present case the Appellant’s speeding convictions were nearly two years apart, and other ‘convictions’ were not actually convictions, it was a matter for the Committee in the present case to consider the convictions and Procurator Fiscal fines which the Appellant had acquired, and to decide whether they give any indication of his character and whether he is to be seen as a fit and proper person to hold a licence.”
Sheriff Kinloch concluded: “The fact that he was prosecuted [for speeding], as opposed to being issued with fixed penalties, suggests that the speeds involved may have been quite high. The other convictions which he has were all relevant convictions to be considered by the Committee. As confirmed by the Court of Session in the case of [Middleton v Dundee City Council (2001)] it was open to the Committee to conclude that he was not to be seen as a fit and proper person to be a taxi driver. If taxi drivers ignore road traffic laws and regulations then it can affect the safety of their passengers.”
For these reasons, the appeal was refused on all grounds.
© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020