Black cab drivers lose High Court challenge against Uber’s London licence

Judge who granted temporary permit accused of ‘bias’ over husband’s alleged financial links to ride-hailing firm 

Sian Harrison
Tuesday 26 February 2019 12:06 GMT
Uber’s licence was granted on a 'probationary' basis in London last year after Transport for London refused to renew it amid safety concerns
Uber’s licence was granted on a 'probationary' basis in London last year after Transport for London refused to renew it amid safety concerns

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 Ltd (UCG), which represents Hackney carriage drivers in the capital, claimed 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.

At a hearing in London earlier this month, lawyers for UCG acknowledged the judge was unaware of any such links but said 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.

London's black cab drivers protest against Uber

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.

Following the article in The Observer in August, she assigned a licensing appeal by Uber she was due to hear in Brighton to another judge and said she would not sit in future cases involving the firm.

In a statement issued at the time, a spokesman for the judiciary said: “Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot did not know the Qatar Investment Authority for which her husband had acted as an adviser was a shareholder in Uber or had any links with Uber.

“Lord Arbuthnot was not aware that the Qatar Investment Authority was a shareholder in Uber or that it had any links to Uber.

“This is the first time that such a connection has been brought to the Chief Magistrate's attention.”

The spokesman added: “It is essential that judges not only are, but are seen to be, absolutely impartial.”

Lord Burnett and Mr Justice Supperstone also heard submissions from TfL and the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, which previously made representations to Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot.

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Speaking before the ruling, an Uber spokesperson said: “We've made lasting changes to our business over the last year and a half.

“We've introduced new safety features in the app for riders and better protections for drivers.

“Since the court ruling in June we have launched emergency assistance so riders can connect directly with the emergency services through the app.

“This is one of a series of improvements we're making for both passengers and drivers, and we continue to listen, learn and improve.”


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