Uber wins High Court battle over breach of 1847 taxi law

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Boost for controversial transport firm in latest round of regulatory war

Uber has won a High Court tussle over whether its drivers are operating in breach of Victorian-era taxi legislation.

Two senior judges found that Uber drivers using the firm’s ubiquitous app are not “plying for hire” within the meaning of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. The decision means that Uber drivers cannot be prosecuted for operating without a black cab licence.

The case involved an Uber driver nabbed by inspectors in Reading and accused of plying for hire without a licence. According to section 45 of the 1847 act, passed early in the reign of Queen Victoria:

“If the proprietor or part proprietor of any carriage, or any person so concerned as aforesaid, permits the same to be used as a hackney carriage plying for hire… every such person so offending shall for every such offence be liable to a penalty.”

The authorities argued that “the exhibition of the vehicle’s location on the Uber App was the equivalent to displaying a ‘for hire’ sign on the vehicle”. The driver was represented by licensing specialists Woods Whur and Philip Kolvin QC, who have acted for Uber in the past. They argued that the car was a private hire vehicle (minicab) rather than a hackney carriage (black cab), and was therefore operating legally using Uber’s private hire licence.

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The High Court, relying on cases such as Sales v Lake (1922) and Cogley v Sherwood (1959), found in Uber’s favour. Lord Justice Flaux said that the Uber app is no different to calling a minicab:

“If I ring a minicab firm and ask for a car to come to my house within five minutes and the operator says “I’ve got five cars round the corner from you. One of them will be with you in five minutes,” there is nothing in that transaction which amounts to plying for hire. As a matter of principle, I do not consider that the position should be different because the use of internet technology avoids the need for the phone call.”

The judge compared Uber to the 1920s “charabanc” minibus in Sales v Lake, saying that the principle was the same: “the customer would make a booking to be picked up at a pre-arranged point”. Flaux also went back to the 1950s to make his point:

“Putting the example given by Lord Parker CJ in Cogley v Sherwood of what would not be plying for hire into the context of the Uber App, if approached in the street, the respondent would have been saying: ‘You cannot have my vehicle, but if you register for the Uber App and make a booking on it, you will be able to get a vehicle, not necessarily mine.'”

Gerald Gouriet QC, a licensing law expert, said that the case “does not seem to me to have fully addressed what I had hoped would be clarified once and for all by this appeal: can there be a soliciting for custom by electronic means, i.e. passing between the apps of the driver and the passenger?; or does ‘plying for hire’ require a line-of-sight invitation to “passing members of the public”? I would answer the first of my questions ‘yes’, and the second question ‘no’ — but on the face of it, the High Court would seem to be against me”.

Uber has been embroiled in legal battles over its business model in recent years. It often argues that is not fundamentally a taxi company and so should not be subject to the same regulations.

In September 2017, Transport for London (TfL) stripped the company of its licence over safety concerns. Uber lashed out at TfL and London mayor Sadiq Khan in an all-customer email, boasting that “we will be immediately challenging this decision in court”, but later backed down and did as it was told by the regulator.

The firm also been around the employment law block, with the Court of Appeal recently dismissing its claim that Uber drivers are not workers entitled to holiday pay and minimum age.

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If the market is to be additionally regulated, then I would rather parliament decided that than (a) the taxi drivers union (b) a random inspector in Reading



As a woman, I feel a lot safer in an Uber. The vehicle is tracked and a record of the number plate on my app. The number of times black cab drivers have asked me to lift up my top is bordering on ridiculous. I have only had that behaviour once from an Uber driver, and Uber handled my complaint very professionally.



I’ve never felt that the tracking function and record of number plate actually provides any further safety. So the guy is tracked driving into a dark alley and raping me. Great. I’m glad my mutilated body will be more easy to find. Also, pretty sure they can just turn their app etc off, and they will go off the grid. That tech may be more useful in prosecuting a rapist, but my main interest is not being raped in the first place.

Pretty sure the security checks to acquire a black cab are similar to those needed to drive Uber – so the tracking function may deter those actually getting the licence for the purpose of raping/mutilating me, but for those who act on impulse (as I think many of those perpetrators tend to), it makes no difference.

The only thing that will stop men raping women is changing our culture in relation to consent and the objectification of womens’ bodies.



I was talking about requests to show my t*ts, not being raped.



Technically, being asked to show your tits isn’t unsafe at all so I don’t know why you used the word “safety” in the first place. Perhaps you confused feeling unsafe with feeling offended or annoyed?



So you need to actually be raped before you are allowed to feel unsafe? You daft c*nt.


Well that’s kind of the point isn’t it.. the idea that Uber’s tracking software should make anyone safer from an unplanned sexual assault, isn’t logical. By the time you’ve been tracked down, you would already have been raped.. or asked to show your tits, or whatever the assault is. The assumption that tracking device = less sexual assault is a bad one, if we focus only on sexual assaults that are not planned.

Sure it may make you feel more safe, but realistically Uber isn’t actually any safer than a black cab.


I am not talking about unplanned sexual assault. I am talking about unwanted or unsolicited sexual behaviour that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. It is somewhat different.

In an Uber I have a direct platform from which I can launch my complaint.
It is linked to the driver and my journey. The drivers know that. If I am in a black cab I have to hope that I can catch the number plate and then go through a lot more difficulty to file a report in respect of the behaviour.


Ok that’s fair and that makes sense. I guess day to day I just don’t care as much about unwanted sexual behaviour like the driver saying some weird stuff.

I’m more interested in the forces of nature and nurture that compel those behaviours, and extreme violent variations of them. And how can we raise men that are less likely to behave that way, so we don’t have to experience it and report it in the first place? That, to me, is a really important issue that I sadly do not have the answer to.


Living in Wonderland.


John - FakeTaxi

Sorry love, thought it was filming day.



Massive fan – keep up the good work.



As a man, I find that my experiences are different. On numerous occasions I have been asked by Uber drivers to unzip myself, or they have asked to unzip themselves. It is wholly inappropriate and I of course reported it to Uber. The problem is, after a number of report (which I assume were disputed by the drivers), I felt like the rest of my complaints started to fall on deaf ears. My Uber rating seemed to take a hit too. All of this, of course, not my fault. I never had that issue with black cab drivers.



There are far more incidents involving black cabs. In 2017 alone at least 327 women were sexually assaulted or raped by a black cab driver in London.



Hi Liam Neeson. How’s the Nazi party treating you?


The farting magistrate of Staines court

Fart! Fart!



Thank you for the support brother. When there are court decisions like this, one realises how far we still have to go as a nation.



Hi Liam Neeson. How’s the Nazi party treating you?



I have friends who qualified as cab drivers (there is an exam) – most of them rent their cabs (rather than own the car). Do not really see how restricting Uber would benefit them. Probably will make harder for them to earn money though (schools preparing for exam for becoming a cab driver are quite expensive and it takes time to finish the exam).



No deal

No deal

No deal

Hard border

It is going

To be biblical



James Wilmott Brown

Forsooth I beg thy black cab drivers from olden day’s to retire to thy forest from whence thy came! Those Anglo Saxons aren’t used to this hocus pocus that can all be done from thy mobile phone.


swati soin

Try cabhit for reliable airport transfer.



I’m sure John Warboys is taking an interest in this.



Mr Gouriet QC’s point seems wrong.

Cabs “plying for hire” must be a real world activity surely? Otherwise the Act would be written in broader terms – “carrying on the business of”, “offering the service of” etc.

It’s always been possible to offer the service away from the street, as with the charabanc minibus. And transporting people or their possessions can’t be virtualised, unlike the transfer of money or information. So the intention and effect of the legislation ought to be taken as requiring a licence only for on-the-spot solicitation. Time hasn’t cast the meaning in a new light.


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