A Sunderland man was won a court battle to start a career as a taxi driver after councillors said he could not be trusted to drive their loved ones.
Sunderland magistrates ruled in favour of Mifta Ahmed, 31, who was denied a taxi licence when councillors went against the guidance of their own legal advisor.
Having submitted an application to Sunderland City Council for Hackney and private driver licences, Mr Ahmed was unfairly painted by members of the local authority’s regulatory committee as untrustworthy and someone they “would not trust their daughter to get in a car with”, the court heard
But the bench unanimously quashed the council committee’s decision, saying they would “be happy” for their relatives to travel with hard-working Mr Ahmed, who was forced to spend £700 on legal fees.
Now council chiefs have said they will respect the court’s decision and issue Mr Ahmed with his licences.
Mr Ahmed’s problems began on November 28, when his case came before the committee and was promptly refused.
We as a bench would be happy for Mr Ahmed to drive one of our relatives and therefore find him to be a fit and proper person and allow the appealPeter Watson, chairman of the bench
Jim Wotherspoon, who represented the council in court, was also present and acted as legal adviser at the November regulatory committee meeting.
He told the court that to grant a licence, the committee must be satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person – something he said comes down to common sense.
Mr Wotherspoon said he advised members that although Mr Ahmed had a conviction for harassment, for which he was given a conditional discharge, and a caution for possession of a BB gun 13 years ago, these should be classed as spent and could not be taken into consideration.
In addition, Mr Ahmed voluntarily advised the hearing that he was once disqualified from driving due to accumulating points, something the committee would not otherwise have been privy too.
Mr Wotherspoon added: “Each case should be considered on its merits and the overriding consideration is the protection of the public.”
Robin Ford, acting for Mr Ahmed, said: “the decision is wrong because the council didn’t exercise their minds properly to the facts that were placed before them.
“The committee members were given advice that none of these offences fits the position you can base a refusal upon.
“Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, these are now effectively spent – they can’t be taken into consideration. Not one is within a time frame that can be taken into account.”
Mr Ford said his client had been open and provided any information asked of him.
Despite this, Mr Ahmed faced a number of hostile remarks from the committee, he said.
Referring to the minutes of the November meeting, Mr Ford said: “Coun (Deborah) Waller states she would not want her daughter to travel in a vehicle with Mr Ahmed given the severity of his convictions.
“He only has one serious conviction and that is the harassment, he was given a conditional discharge for that.
“You can perhaps see how the magistrates perhaps concluded that the offence was less serious to warrant that outcome.
“Coun (George) Howe said he didn’t think Mr Ahmed could be trusted, despite volunteering further information than the council had been given, that he had been disqualified from driving.”
Mr Ford said one member had even queried the authenticity of Mr Ahmed’s BTEC qualification, but admitted this was more likely due to the it being newly introduced.
“This is a man who has provided as much information as he could,” Mr Ford added. “He disclosed more information than they had asked for.
“Every single piece of advice given by Mr Wotherspoon is bang on the money – the councillors have been given the perfect advice explaining that none of these offenses can be taken into consideration.
“I genuinely can’t understand the thought processes of the councillors – they have been given the correct advice and decided not to act on it.”
Bench chairman Peter Watson said: “We are satisfied that the advice given to councillors was in line with council policy and we do not agree with the subsequent decision by the council members.
“We are satisfied that you are a safe driver on the basis of your driving record.
“There is no evidence before us that you are not an honest person.
“We as a bench would be happy for Mr Ahmed to drive one of our relatives and therefore find him to be a fit and proper person and allow the appeal.”
Coun James Blackburn, chairman of the Regulatory Committee, said: “We respect the court’s decision and we will now issue the licences to drive hackney carriages and private hire vehicles as applied for by Mr Ahmed.
“Mr Ahmed’s application was fully considered by the council’s committee following strict legal guidelines.
“The committee had to decide whether or not Mr Ahmed was a fit and proper person to hold such licences based upon the information known about him.
“The statutory decision making process includes an option to appeal against the committee’s decision if the applicant disagrees with the outcome.”
The Echo contacted Coun Waller about her comments regarding not trusting Mr Ahmed to drive her daughter.
She said: “I don’t think that was said:
However, Coun Waller added: “It is now policy. We have to look at it from that point of view. Would we be happy for them to drive a member of our family, that was the solicitor’s advice.”
The Echo has also tried to contact Coun Howe.
Mr Ahmed, who lives in Hill View, told the Echo how relieved he was to finally be able to start his new career in the taxi trade.
He said: “I’m just so very happy. I’m over the moon with the decision of Sunderland Magistrates’ Court and Robin Ford did a really good job fighting my corner.”
Mr Ahmed said his future had been put on hold, by the committee’s decision, which left him £700 out of pocket in legal fees.
“Sunderland City Council had my future in doubt and I was gutted with the decision in November and I had to find the money to fight it.
“I was unemployed and it was really difficult trying to get that money and not knowing how it was going to turn out.”