“I don’t believe a word of your evidence”: District Judge dismisses driver’s appeal for asking passenger intrusive questions
A District Judge has dismissed an appeal against the revocation of a private hire driver’s licence after finding he was guilty of a “wholly inappropriate intrusion into the private life” of a passenger on two separate journeys.
In October 2019 Aylesbury Vale District Council received a complaint from a passenger that a private hire driver had asked her a number of highly intrusive and inappropriate questions about her sexuality during a journey to her workplace. She reported that the same driver had picked her up earlier in the year when he had asked her similar inappropriate questions.
The driver was interviewed and completely denied the allegations. No complaint was made to the police about either journey.
On reviewing the driver’s licensing history, the Council discovered a history of serious allegations made against the driver but none had resulted in an arrest let alone a prosecution and conviction. With regards to one allegation, the driver had accepted a police caution.
Nonetheless, the Council was concerned that the evidence suggested a pattern of behaviour which suggested that he was unsuitable to remain licensed. After giving him an indication of the decision the Council was minded to make, and an opportunity to respond, his licence was revoked with immediate effect.
The driver appealed and his appeal was heard at the High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court by District Judge Dodd on 26 August 2021.
The Council called the passenger to give evidence. From behind a screen, she told the court that she had been made to feel very uncomfortable and shaken by the driver on both journeys. She confirmed that she had not challenged the driver about his behaviour but explained that she was not the kind of person who confronts others.
The driver also gave evidence and again denied the allegations against him – although he did accept having asked the passenger what time she finished work.
In closing submissions made on the driver’s behalf, his counsel maintained his client’s denial but also sought to argue that, even if the conversations had taken place, they could be explained away as “curiosity” and were not necessarily inappropriate. He emphasised that they did not amount to a criminal offence and the driver had not faced any police action as a result of the allegations.
The Judge gave an unusually forthright judgment.
- He identified the “key to the case” as the credibility of the passenger and whether her account of the journeys meant that the Appellant was not a fit and proper person.
- He found the passenger to be a “clear, credible and wholly convincing witness” and noted that the only reason she would go to the trouble of making her complaint and co-operating with the Council’s investigation was that the allegations were true and that she had been left seriously worried and upset by the driver’s behaviour on two occasions.
- He “[didn’t] believe a word” of the driver’s evidence and entirely rejected it. He found the driver’s admission that he had asked the passenger what time she finished work as “wholly damning” and noted that the driver had “every incentive to lie to me, to save your job and spare yourself embarrassment.
- He concluded that the driver’s behaviour on these two occasions was “nothing short of disgraceful” and, without reference to the earlier allegations, justified revocation of his licence.
The driver’s appeal was dismissed and he was ordered to pay the Council’s costs.
Making decisions on the basis of “non-conviction” information is rarely easy. This case provides a useful example of a licensing authority being vindicated by the court for taking a safety-first approach where doubt exists as to the suitability of the licence holder.
Matt Lewin of Cornerstone Barristers’ Licensing Team represented Buckinghamshire Council.