Spring Radio Cars v Glasgow City Council 2014

ON THE DECISION FROM THE COURT OF SESSION IN SPRING RADIO CARS LIMITED v GLASGOW CITY COUNCIL [2014] CSIH 21.

The full report of the above case is available here. The original judicial review decision from the Outer House in this case (Spring Radio Cars Limited v Glasgow City Council[2013] CSOH 15) is available here.

This case concerns a licensing authority’s policy concerning approved vehicles and the separation of “taxi” and “private hire car” under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The particular model at the centre of this debate is the Fiat Scudo. Glasgow City Council had, as part of its consideration in creating a policy and through it a “list” of approved vehicles which it would allow to be licensed under the taxi “operator” licence, agreed to allow the Fiat Scudo to be used as taxi vehicle.

This request was considered in 2009 and refused, on the basis to have the same vehicle licensed for both taxis and private hire would create confusion with the public, who may for example seek to “flag down” a vehicle which they think is a “taxi” but was actually a “private hire”. A further application was considered in January 2012 and refused. This more recent decision was judically reviewed and the Outer House rejected that petition (see the link above). The petitioners sought a reclaiming motion which the Inner House have now rejected too.

I pause to note for the avoidance of doubt that a “taxi” in this context is a taxi ie a “hackney” cab. The 1982 Act creates a seperate definition and separate rules for “taxi” licences compared to “private hire” licences. The principal difference to the man in the street is in “look and feel” of the taxi, which is traditionally a “black cab” sort of vehicle (although not always), and also that the taxi can be hired from the street wheras the private hire must be booked in advance and cannot be “flagged down”.

This particular model of car was approved by Glasgow City Council as a “taxi”. The question here was whether the council could then, by its admitted practice, reject an application for Spring Radio Cars to allow the same vehicle to be used as a private hire car with regards to powers under the 1982 Act. Separately, there was an issue of whether the policy constituted an infringement on Article 34 of the EU Treaty, which deals with quantitative restrictions on imports between Member States.

In the result, the court has held that as far at the challenge under domestic law, there is no merit to that argument, and that this fundamentally affirms the view that it is appropriate for a licensing authority to have a policy which differentiates between vehicles which approved for taxis and those which are approved for private hire cars. The Inner House also rejected the argument based on Article 34. One passage of note (58) states:

We observe that the present case is far removed from what the ECJ indicated
would be a contravention of article 34. There is no question here of any ban on
imports, or any quantitative restriction on imports. The measure does not relate
to production, manufacture, importation or even selling arrangements, but merely
licensing and regulatory functions. Moreover, the provisions apply to all
relevant traders operating within the national territory, and they affect in the
same manner, in law and in fact, domestic products and products from other
Member States“.

The court then goes on to look at the Article 34 issue in detail with regard to other case law, which can be read in the full text of the judgement itself above.

The Inner House has, in short, held that it is lawful for a licensing authority to create a policy concerning the suitability of vehicles and to create a process to “approve” certain vehicles and, in doing do, discriminate by allowing a particular vehicle to be “approved” as a taxi but not a private hire car (and vice versa).

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About Stephen McGowan

Leading Scottish licensing solicitor at TLT. Chairman of BII Scotland.
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