Taxi drivers lose court fight for compensation
Irish Independent - 24-March-2001 - John Maddock
A JUDGE yesterday upheld Government plans to deregularise the taxi business and said 2,000 new cabs have not cut queues in the capital.
Mr Justice Paul Carney said the "defeatist tone" of the hardship statements filed on behalf of the taximen might not be justified in these circumstances.
He also rejected the taxi operators' claim that the new regulations should have contained a compensation scheme. The taximen were mistaken if they believed there was an automatic right to compensation in all circumstances, said the High Court judge.
He awarded the taximen half their legal costs but said that if they went on strike within a 21-day period he would review the costs order.
He said the taximen had in the past reaped the benefits of legislative change. It was not open to them at this stage to complain about such changes in the law having a detrimental effect on the value of their licences.
Mr Justice Carney found Junior Environment Minister Bobby Molloy was wrong, when introducing deregulation, to repeal legislation Statutory Instrument 3 (SI 3) which included the proposal to grant an extra licence to each existing licence holder.
Hackney drivers who were unhappy with SI 3 succeeded in a High Court decision last October to have it quashed. Taximen then lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court finding.
Mr Justice Carney decided the minister had no power to repeal SI 3 until the appeal has been decided by the Supreme Court or unless it is withdrawn.
It might mean, he added, that there would be two plans in being for solving the taxi problem if the Supreme Court upheld the taximen's appeal. At that stage, he said, the minister could then repeal SI 3.
Mr Justice Carney said he was not taking it into account in his decision, but he could not help but notice that during the timeframe of the case, while taxi numbers increased by well over 2,000 in Dublin, taxi shortages and queues remained.
He said interference with the taximen's property rights was not only justified but minimal in that the taximen were still free to dispose of their licence and to use it in any way they saw fit. They were mistaken if they believed there was an automatic right to compensation in all circumstances.
The increased demand for public service transport was a special circumstance entitling the junior minister to change previous policy. The one chosen, deregulation (SI 376) could not be said to fly in the face of fundamental reason.
It was unnecessary in this case, said the judge, to establish whether representations had been made or assurances given to the taxi drivers on foot of which they formed the belief that the previous policy would not be altered.
Even if such assurances had in fact been given, even by high ranking members of the Government, the nature of such assurances was such that they could only have been regarded as conditional. He also found there was no duty to consult the holders of taxi licences prior to taking a decision.
Mr Justice Carney said the taximen must have been aware of the risk that legislative change might affect the value of a licence.
He said SI 3 (struck down by the High Court) sought to address in a meaningful way the intolerable shortage of taxis in Dublin and to give taxi drivers who had paid typically sums of £80,000 "a soft landing" in relation to the loss of their investment.
While taximen had come to accept there must be more taxis, they had continued to want deregulation or liberalisation to be so gradual that there would be taxi queues on Dublin streets for at least a decade to come, although perhaps in declining numbers year by year.
The taximen did not couch their argument in those terms for obvious reasons but this was the logic of the position they had taken.
Taxi queues or shortages were necessary to preserve the values of £80,000 and upwards which had been paid for licences in recent years. If demand for taxi services equalled supply there would be no reason for premium prices being paid for licences in a secondary market. Mr Justice Carney said the introduction of SI 376 represented a "gratuitous and unwarranted interference" in the taxi drivers' appeal to the Supreme Court but it was an innocent interference and not a malevolent one.