Thursday, March 16, 2023

High Court reporters

An appeal by taxi drivers over claims that the value of their business was wiped out by the deregulation of the sector in 2000 has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

In 2002, two Dublin cabbies and another from Co Clare brought the first of three test cases against the Minister for Environment and Local Government and against their respective local authorities, Dublin City Council and Clare County Council. These were test cases for more than 1,100 similar claims by taxi drivers.

The three had sought damages and declaratory orders claiming they suffered immediate and significant losses as a result of overnight deregulation and liberalisation of the market.

Among their claims were that the Minister and the State acted beyond their powers by delegating the role of deciding on the number of licences to the local authorities and in breach of their right to earn a livelihood and their constitutional rights.

A declaration was also sought that Dublin City Council acted contrary to competition law.

The defendants denied the claims.

Delayed hearing

It was not until 2013 that the case was heard following a number of years of exchanges of affidavits and motions before the court.

In 2015, the High Court dismissed their claims saying it was satisfied that it was within the Minister’s powers to delegate regulatory powers to local authorities.

That court also found the regulations did not interfere “much less unjustly attack” the taxi-men’s right to earn a livelihood.

An appeal was lodged against that decision with the Court of Appeal (CoA).

On Thursday, In two separate concurring judgments, the CoA’s Ms Justice Caroline Costello and Mr Justice Maurice Collins dismissed the appeal. Mr Justice Robert Haughton agreed with his colleagues.

Ms Justice Costello said the power of the Minister to delegate to local authorities to decide how many licences should be issued was made in 1978.

She said the taxi men had standing to sue in relation to the 1978 taxi regulations from as far back, in one case, as 1994.

Their challenges to the restriction regulations, and the claims dependent on those challenges, should have been made by February 2001 at the latest, she said. But the High Court actions were not launched until 2002, she said.

Out of time claims

All of the claims are out of time and should be dismissed as being outside of the time allowed for bringing such claims, she said.

Their right to earn a livelihood was not breached either by the maintenance of the secondary market in taxi licences as a result of the restriction regulations or by their subsequent repeal, she said.

They were still entitled to work as taxi drivers and were not entitled to protection against competition or to any guaranteed level of income, she said.

The infliction of a pecuniary loss does not in itself establish that an infringement of the constitutionally protected right to earn a livelihood had taken place, she said.

She also allowed a cross appeal by the defendants in relation to a decision of the High Court to permit the amendment of the proceedings to include a new ground of challenge and over a refusal to dismiss the cases because they were statute barred.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Collins agreed with the High Court’s conclusion that the local councils were not undertakings and therefore were not subject to the competition rules in carrying out their licensing functions.

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