Judge cautions cabbies over court battle hopes
By JOHN MADDOCK
TAXI operators were given leave by the High Court yesterday for a judicial review on the controversial new taxi regulations announced last month by the Minister for State at the Department of the Environment, Bobby Molloy.
The full hearing of the case is expected to start on December 19 and continue for a few days, making it uncertain if there will be a decision before Christmas.
The sides are to go back to court on Monday to finalise a date for the hearing.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said yesterday that while he was granting leave to seek judicial review, that was not an indicator of the prospect of success at the trial. Yesterday's decision was that the applicants had met the low standard of proof required when seeking leave for a judicial review, that they had an arguable case.
The decision was "nothing more, nothing less, than that."
The judge added that the granting of leave did not hinder the continued operation of Statutory Instrument 367 (brought in by the Minister on November 21 to allow deregulation of the industry) or any part of it. That SI continued in full force and operation unless the court directed otherwise.
The High Court proceedings have been taken by the National Taxi Drivers Union; its general secretary, Thomas Gorman; and its vice president, Vincent Kearns. The respondents are the Minister for the Environment and Local Government; the Minister of State at that Department, Ireland, and the Attorney General.
Last month's regulations followed the High Court's decision in October, rejecting another scheme brought in early in the year in respect of the taxi industry. Those proceedings were taken by hackney operators, and the High Court decision is being appealed by taximen.
In the present case, the taxi operators claim the November regulations amount to an "improper interference" with their entitlement to have the appeal disposed of. The State strongly denies this.
In the grounds supporting the challenge to last month's regulations, it is submitted that taxi licence holders have a property right in their licences which had been caused by the manner in which the licensing system was created by the State, and in particular by the way in which the State had vested licensing authorities with power to sell the assets (plates).
It is claimed that the Minister of State in purporting to remove all quantitative restrictions to the taxi licence market without providing for any system of compensation for taxi licence holders whose assets are "thereby rendered valueless," despite significant investment by them has exceeded his powers under the Road Traffic Act.
The taxi operators claim the regulations are contrary to the Constitution in that they attempt to abolish their property rights.
The applicants also maintain that they had a legitimate expectation that their licences would be maintained at a value commensurate with their investment in the market.
They submit that the Minister and Minister of State refused, despite requests, to hear their legitimate concerns, contrary to natural justice.
Mr Justice Kelly said that, notwithstanding the strong submissions by the State, he concluded that an arguable case had been made by under various headings put forward by John Rogers SC, for the applicants.
After the judge had granted leave to seek judicial review, Paul O'Higgins SC, for the State, said his side was anxious for the earliest possible trial date.
Mr Justice Kelly asked if the sides would be ready for trial on Tuesday, but Mr Rogers said his side would not be ready then.
Mr Justice Kelly said the matter must be dealt with expeditiously. He suggested that that hearing begin on December 19, and said he would list the case for Monday to hear any observations in relation to the trial date.
He indicated that the trial would be fixed for not later than December 19. Costs of the the three-day hearing prior to yesterday's judgment were reserved.