Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED February 20, 2003

A council was entitled under s.70 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to charge all those whose vehicles they inspected for the purpose of granting vehicle licences for hackney carriages and private hire vehicles whether or not a licence was eventually granted.Appeal by the defendant council from a judgment of Andrew Smith J. The appeal concerned the powers granted by s.70 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to local authorities to charge fees for the grant of vehicle licences for both a hackney carriage licence under ss.37-45 Town Police Clauses Act, 1847 and a private hire vehicle under s.48 of the 1976 Act. The 1976 Act in terms and the 1847 Act arguably by implication, obliged councils to inspect the vehicle which it was sought to licence. Parliament had authorised authorities to charge fees so that they could reimburse themselves this cost. The claimant, 'K', sued to recover the money paid to the council in respect of inspection charges. The judge decided that councils could only charge those to whom they granted licences, as s.70 provided for the charging of fees "for the grant of ...vehicle licences". It followed that if no licence was granted no fee could be charged. The authority contended that they were empowered to charge all those whose vehicles they inspected whether or not a licence was eventually granted. The authority pointed out that a consequence of the judge's decision was that the cost of inspecting vehicles which should not have been submitted for testing fell upon those who ensured that their vehicles were up to scratch before they submitted them for testing.HELD: (1) The phrase "for the grant of ...vehicle licences" in s.70 of the 1976 Act was ambiguous. It could also mean that any fees charged must arise out of functions properly associated with the function of the granting of a licence and that inspection for the purpose of ascertaining whether to grant a licence was fundamental to this function. (2) S.70(6) gave the council the utmost flexibility in remitting parts of the fee relating to other matters which could only apply after licensing or only to certain vehicles (eg the provision of hackney carriage stands). (3) The judge was wrong in the view that it was wrong to charge fees to those applicants whose vehicles did not pass the test and were thus not granted a licence. His conclusions involved the proposition that either the council or those who presented first class vehicles for licensing must pay for the inspection costs of those who repeatedly presented substandard vehicles. That could not have been intended by Parliament. (4) It was lawful to charge the costs of inspection separately from other costs. (5) The council was entitled to do as many councils did and specify separate maximum sums in respect of the first vehicle inspection, subsequent inspections, administrative costs and so on, without specifying an overall maximum figure. It was important that any proposed increase was advertised and considered in the way envisaged in s.70(3)-(5).Appeal allowed. Action dismissed.

[2003] EWCA Civ 197