R v Liverpool Corpn.ex parte Liverpool Taxi Fleet Operators' Association

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date14 February 1972
Judgment citation (vLex)[1972] EWCA Civ J0214-2
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date14 February 1972
Re Liverpool Taxi Owners Association
Re Liverpool Corporation
Re Orders For Prohibition, Mandamus And Certiorari

[1972] EWCA Civ J0214-2


The Master Of The Rolls

(Lord Denning),

Lord Justice Roskill and

Sir Gordon Willmer.

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

Appeal by applicants from order of the Queen's Bench Divisional Court.

Mr. CHARLES JAMES (instructed by Messrs. Markbys, London agents for Messrs. Layton & Co. of Liverpool) appeared on behalf of the Appellant Applicants.

Mr. MICHAEL NORLAND (instructed by Messrs. Cree Godfrey & Wood, London agents for Mr. Stanley Holmes, Town Clerk, Liverpool). appeared on behalf of the Liverpool Corporation.


This case concerns the number of taxicabs on the streets of Liverpool. Since 1948 the Liverpool Corporation have limited the number of taxicabs to 300. The taxicab owners want it to remain at 300. But the taxicab drivers want the numbers increased. They point out that in recent years a great number of private hire cars have come on to the streets. These private hire cars are not licensed. There is no control over them. These vehicles do not have to come up to any required standard. The taxi drivers feel that they are taking custom which should belong to them. The mischief is such that the Liverpool Corporation are promising a Bill before Parliament to bring these private hire cars under control.


In addition the Liverpool, Corporation have passed a Resolution to increase the number of taxicabs. The owners seek to prohibit them from doing so. They say the Corporation passed the Resolution without hearing their case properly and contrary to an undertaking.


To consider the question, I must first state the jurisdiction of the Liverpool Corporation. They are the licensing authority for taxicabs in the city. They derive their powers from an Act of 1847 which applies to hackney carriages. There were horse drawn carriages in those days, but now they are motor driven. Section 37 says:


"The commissioners may from time to time license to ply for hire within the prescribed distance, or if no distance is prescribed, within five miles from the General Post Office of the city, town, or place to which the special Act refers, (which in that case shall be deemed the prescribed distance,) such number of hackney coaches or carriages of any kind or description adapted to the carriage of persons as they think fit."


By section 43 a licence was to be in force for one year only. That Act was explained by Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, in The King v. Weymouth Borough Council Ex parte Teletax (Weymouth) Ltd. (1947) 1 K. B. 583, at page 589:


"It also seems reasonably clear that what Parliament had in mind was that it was desirable that the commissioners should be able to control the number of carriages which plied for hire in a given area, and should also be entitled to prescribe the kind and the description of the carriages …. I have no doubt they …. certainly could take into consideration the number of cabs which were already licensed, so that there would not be an undue number or, on the other hand, if they found there were not enough for the reasonable requirements of the public, they would be able to license more from time to time as they thought fit."


The licence is a licence for the vehicle. It is not a licence for the owner or the driver. Accordingly the owner of a vehicle can transfer his vehicle during the year to a buyer. The buyer can use it under the licence for the rest of the year. When the owner applies for the licence to be renewed for another year, the Corporation can take into consideration not only the then proprietor, but also any new applicant. We were referred to an unreported case on that point: The Queen v. Southampton on 27th October 1960.


In the middle of 1970, when the owners heard that the Corporation proposed to increase the number of taxicabs, their Association took up the matter. On 24th July 1970 the Town Clerk of Liverpool wrote to the solicitors for the Taxicab Owners' Association, saying:


"No decision has been taken on the number of hackney carriage plates and, before any such decision was taken, you have my assurance that interested parties would be fully consulted."


That was re-affirmed on 28th October 1970 when the Town Clerk wrote:


"I have no doubt that your clients will, be given an opportunity to make representations, at the appropriate time, should they wish to do so."


In July 1971 the matter was considered by a Sub-Committee of the Corporation. The taxicab owners were represented by Counsel. The Sub-Committee recommended an increase above 300, to this extent: there should be 50 more in the year beginning in January 1972 (making 350) and a further 100 in the year beginning January 1973 (making 450), and thereafter an unlimited number.


On 4th August 1971 that recommendation came up for consideration by the City Council themselves. The Minutes were approved subject to some matters being sent back. In addition the Chairman of the Committee gave an undertaking of 11th August 1971 (which was put into writing by the Town Clerk in a letter). "The Chairman of the Committee gave an undertaking in Council that no plates in addition to the existing 300 would be issued until proposed legislation had been enacted and had come into force." After the meeting the Alderman came out to the representatives of the taxicab proprietors. The Treasurer of the Association asked:


"Is it right, Alderman Craine, that no licenses will be issued until legislation controlling private hire vehicles is in force?"


The Alderman replied: "I have just stated that publicly. I have just made an announcement to that effect."


So there was a clear undertaking, namely, no more than 300 licenses until the legislation about private hire cabs was in force. It was expected that the Bill would be introduced towards the end of 1971, passed in 1972 and in force early in 1973.


So things should have rested there till 1973. But not a bit of it. Behind the scenes the Corporation seem to have been advised that that undertaking was not lawful and they ought not to hold themselves bound by it. So, without a word to thetaxicab owners or their association, a Sub-Committee met on 16th November 1971, they rescinded the earlier Resolution and put forward a new recommendation, namely, that from 1st January 1972 a further 50 licenses would be issued bringing the total to 350: and that from 1st July 1972 a further 50, bringing the total to 400: and no limit from 1st January 1973.


The taxicab owners got indirectly to hear of that recommendation. (They were never told officially.) So their solicitors asked for a further hearing. They asked if there were any new facts and requested that their clients should be given an opportunity of making further representations. On 7th December 1971 the Town Clerk replied: 'There are no new important material facts. If there are any new material facts of which you have become aware, please let me have details of them by return." The meeting was to be on the next day, 8th December. So it was quite impossible for the owners to make any reply by return.


On 8th December the Committee met. They confirmed the Sub-Committee. On 22nd December the City Council met. They confirmed the Committee and adopted the recommendation. The result was that the Corporation resolved to increase the number from 300 to 350 from 1st January to July of 1972, and to 400 from 1st July 1972 to 31st December 1972, and thenceforth unlimited. That was quite contrary to the undertaking which had been most explicitly given in August.


On getting to know of this, the taxicab owners moved the Divisional Court ex parte for orders of prohibition and certiorari. The Divisional Court refused the application. We desired to hear the Corporation. So notice was served on them. We have had the full argument before us today.


First I would say this: when the Corporation consider applications for licenses under the Hackney Carriage Act, they are under a duty to act fairly. This means that they should be ready to hear, not only the particular applicant, but also any other persons or bodies whose interests are affected In Rex v. Brighton Corporation in 1916, 85 Law Journal K.B. 1552, Mr. Justice Sankey, as he then was, said:


"Persons who are called upon to exercise the functions of granting licences for carriage and omnibus are, to a great extent, exercising judicial functions, and although they are not bound by the strict rules of evidence and procedure observed in a Court of law, they are bound to act judicially. It is their duty to hear and determine according to law, and they must bring to that task a fair and unbiased mind."


It is perhaps putting it a little high to say they are exercising judicial functions. They may be said to be exercising an administrative function. But even so, in our modern approach, they must act fairly: and the Court will see that they do so.


To apply that principle here: suppose the Corporation proposed to reduce the number of taxicabs from 300 to 200, it would be their duty to hear the Taxicab Owners Association: because their members would be greatly affected. They would certainly be persons aggrieved. Likewise suppose the Corporation propose to increase the number of taxicabs from 300 to 350 or 400 or more: it is the duty of the Corporation to hear those affected before coming to a decision adverse to their interests. The Town Clerk of Liverpool was quite aware of this and acted accordingly. His letters of 24th July 1970 and 28th October 1970 were perfectly proper.


The other thing I would say Is that the Corporation were not at liberty to disregard their undertaking. They were bound by it so long as it was not in conflict with their statutory duty.


It is said that a Corporation cannot contract itself out...

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