Councils in England and Wales are currently encouraged to check criminal records and take a ‘strong stance’ on previous offences, such as sexual assault or rape, when drivers apply for taxi licences.
Essentially, current guidelines allow councils to have discretion as they are able to set their own driver standards and make their own decisions in relation to carrying out the necessary checks. But, why are these criminal records checks not mandatory for taxi drivers? New proposals state that councils should be carrying out enhanced criminal checks when drivers apply for their licences.
The present issues
In 2017, there were seven drivers convicted of sexual offences in London alone. According to the Department of Transport, in 2017, 85% of local authorities in England required potential taxi or private-hire drivers to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for a criminal record, as well as a check on whether they were on lists prohibiting them from working with children or vulnerable adults. The remaining 15% of local authorities required a criminal record check, but not a check on whether they were able to work with vulnerable people.
Concerns were expressed in 2018 as Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, stressed that the industry urgently needed new laws with strict standards; a national database of drivers and operators; and an end to ‘cross-border’ hiring, which sees drivers working outside of areas where they are licensed. He went on to state that, ‘the current flawed system is being exploited by unscrupulous private hire drivers and operators who disregard regulations to work wherever and however they want. The outdated system must be overhauled to give passengers confidence that they will be safe whenever they step into a taxi or minicab.’
The City of Wolverhampton Council has been criticised as it has increased the number of issued licences yet drivers no longer even need to work in the area of the local authority that originally granted them their licences. This has led to a chaotic picture evolving around the country, with authorities unable to control all cab drivers who work in their area. Reports of child sexual exploitation are amongst allegations made against taxi drivers licensed in Wolverhampton, but who actually operate across England as a whole. The BBC has reported that in recent years, there have been seven allegations of child sexual exploitation made, as well as 16 serious sexual allegations made against drivers licensed in Wolverhampton. The report made furthest from the city came from a complainant more than 150 miles away. In Scotland, private hire vehicles can only pick up fares within the local authority area which gave them their taxi-operating licence.
Professor Rod Thomson, Shropshire Council's Director of Public Health expressed that, ‘public safety is being threatened and environmental aspirations diluted in cases where drivers and vehicle proprietors 'shop around' to be licensed by local authorities that demand lower standards and then exclusively or predominantly work in an area or areas where standards are higher and licences more difficult to obtain’.
New and improved proposals suggest that drivers with previous convictions will face minimum bans ‘in all but truly exceptional circumstances’. Below is a table which shows the proposed guidance for previous convictions
|Conviction relating to:||Minimum length of ban|
|Crimes resulting in death||Banned for life|
|Exploitation (includes slavery and child sexual abuse)||Banned for life|
|Sex and indecency offences||Banned for life|
|Offences involving violence||+10 years after sentence ends|
|Drugs||Supply: +10 years after sentence ends|
Possession: +5 years after sentence ends
|Dishonesty||+7 years after sentence ends|
|Possession of a weapon||+7 years after sentence ends|
|Discrimination||+7 years after sentence ends|
|Drink driving/driving under the influence of drugs||+7 years after sentence ends|
|Using a hand‐held telephone or hand held device whilst driving||+5 years after sentence ends|
|(Multiple) Motoring convictions||To be considered by licensing authority|
The plans also include introducing national minimum standards, as well as a database to stop applicants applying to councils after being refused elsewhere. Taxis Minister, Nusrat Ghani has stated that, ‘These rules would make sure that drivers are fit to carry passengers, keeping people safe while stopping those with bad intentions from getting behind the wheel of a taxi or minicab.’
In addition, the Department for Transport is also considering whether cabs and private hire vehicles should have to be fitted with CCTV. The cameras would be fitted with an encrypted system so footage could only be accessed if a crime was reported. In 2017, just 4% of authorities required CCTV cameras to be fitted in cabs.
However, what about those taxi drivers who are of good character and who are simply on the roads to do their job and to take care of their passengers? Phil Ashford, from the National Working Group for tackling child sexual exploitation, has commented that: ‘The majority of taxi drivers out there are working hard to make a living and are trained to actually help vulnerable people". He further states that, ‘What is really important is that we make sure we bring the taxi drivers in on this. I understand they may feel like they're being unfairly targeted but you know this is about protecting children and protecting drivers' business reputation.’
Ebrahim Suleman, former chairman of West Midlands Private Hire Drivers Association, stated that ‘99.9% of drivers’ were honest and hardworking; only a minority use loopholes to get a licence. He added that there should be a cap on the number of drivers that can be licensed by one authority as it would lead to a ‘safer and more robust system’.
How Stephensons can assist
The primary consideration of a sub-committee is whether the licence holder is a fit and proper person. A licensing authority is entitled to suspend or revoke a taxi or PHV driver’s licence if there is evidence to suggest that the individual is not a fit and proper person. Where a council is considering refusing a new application, or revoking an existing licence, it will usually invite a licence holder to appear before a taxi licensing panel or sub-committee. If the sub-committee refuses to issue a licence or revokes or suspends an existing taxi licence, the licence holder can then appeal to the local Magistrates’ Court and must prove that he or she is a fit and proper person. The authority may also attach conditions on licences which are also possible to appeal.
At Stephensons, our regulatory solicitors are able to assist if your licence has been revoked or refused; if your licence has been suspended; or if your licence has been imposed with conditions. We can also provide representation should you find yourself before a sub-committee or faced with an appeal in the Magistrates’ Court. Please call us now on 01616 966 229 for more information.