In September 2019 Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council’s taxi licensing panel had refused Imran Ali a taxi driver’s licence on the basis that he was not a fit and proper person. In his application Mr Ali had disclosed a previous criminal conviction for child abduction in 2007 after Mr Ali, then 26 years old and a serving police officer, had picked up two teenage girls, both aged under 16, in Manchester City Centre. Mr Ali pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment wholly suspended for a period of 18 months. He was also made subject to an 18 month supervision order at Manchester Crown Court.
However, in September 2020, Mr Ali successfully appealed the Council’s decision to refuse him a taxi licence. In a widely reported case, that caused considerable concern in taxi licensing circles, Sefton Magistrates’ Court found that Mr Ali was a fit and proper person. The Court noted that he had built a business portfolio, started a family, significantly helped the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and his conviction was many years old.
A spokesman for Sefton said after the magistrates’ court ruling that the council was “bitterly disappointed” with the decision. Fiona Townsend from the Council’s legal team instructed Gary Grant of Francis Taylor Building to act for Sefton in a further appeal to the Crown Court against the magistrates’ ruling.
In its appeal notice the Council submitted that Mr Ali’s previous offending went to the heart of the modern approach to taxi licensing that had developed since the Rochdale and other grooming scandals came to light.
It argued that Mr Ali had abused a position of trust with a vulnerable child in 2006, whilst still a police officer.
Sefton said councils, and by extension the courts, are entreated to take a cautious approach when they determine whether or not to grant a taxi driver licence to a person who has serious criminal convictions that involve vulnerable victims.
The notice of appeal placed considerable weight on the Statutory Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle Standards Guidance, issued by the Department of Transport in July 2020, where the modern formulation of the fit and proper person test is set out (at §5.12-5.13):
“Without any prejudice, and based on the information before you, would you allow a person for whom you care, regardless of their condition, to travel alone in a vehicle driven by this person at any time of day or night?
If, on the balance of probabilities, the answer to the question is ‘no’, the individual should not hold a licence.”
In line with the Guidance, the Council argued that the safeguarding of the public is paramount and particular caution should be taken where offences against children and vulnerable people are involved. This means that an applicant should not be given “the benefit of the doubt”.
The Council referred the Crown Court to Annex A of the Guidance which recommends that no taxi licences should be granted, no matter how much time has passed since the offence, in the following instance of relevance:
Exploitation: Where an applicant or licensee has been convicted of a crime involving, related to, or has any connection with abuse, exploitation, use or treatment of another individual irrespective of whether the victim or victims were adults or children, they will not be licensed. This includes slavery, child sexual abuse, exploitation, grooming, psychological, emotional or financial abuse, but this is not an exhaustive list.
The Council submitted that Mr Ali’s behaviour in 2006 fell within this category.
Arguing that the decision of the magistrates’ court was wrong, the notice invited the Crown Court to reinstate the Council’s original decision to refuse to grant Mr Ali a taxi driver’s licence on the basis that he does not meet the “fit and proper person” test.
Following service of the Council’s arguments on Mr Ali, in October 2021 Mr Ali indicated he would no longer oppose the Council’s appeal. The matter was listed at Liverpool Crown Court on 14 October 2021 where, in open court, His Honour Judge Watson QC quashed the decision of the magistrates’ court that Mr Ali was a fit and proper person to hold a taxi driver’s licence and upheld the original decision of Sefton Council to refuse him a licence.