Private Hire Licence – Landmark Decision Concerning Suspension

Ben appeared for P in Reigate and Banstead BC v Pawlowski [2017] EWHC 1764 (Admin).  It has become a leading case on a council’s power to suspend a private hire licence.  


Singh v Cardiff Justices established that it was unlawful for a local authority to use suspension as a holding operation pending further investigation. Accordingly, a local authority could not lawfully suspend by reason of a criminal charge on a "wait and see" basis.


If it suspended the licence, it had to do so by way of a substantive decision on the fitness of the driver to hold the licence. Once it was seen that suspension was not a holding operation but a substantive decision, it became apparent that suspension would rarely be the appropriate course where a driver was charged with a matter for which, if convicted, he would be subject to revocation of his licence.


If such a charge merited action, and if the action was not by way of an interim measure pending determination of the facts at criminal trial, revocation would generally be the appropriate course. To suspend a licence because an allegation was made and then revoke it because the allegation was proved was contrary to the decision in Singh.


That was not to say that, once a decision had been taken to suspend upon notification of a charge, no subsequent decision to revoke could ever be taken. It was possible to envisage a case where facts thereafter emerging from the criminal trial put a different complexion on the matter. The initial suspension would not necessarily rule out a subsequent revocation in such circumstances, having regard in particular to the fact that the local authority's powers were conferred for purposes of public protection.


Any decision to revoke would be subject to a statutory right of appeal. Further, if it should later transpire, for example by reason of acquittal at trial, that the former licence-holder was indeed a fit and proper person to hold a licence, provision could be made for expeditious re-licensing.