Breach of procedure not fatal to prosecution - Aylesbury Vale DC v Call a Cab Ltd.
In an eagerly anticipated judgement that will provide great relief to licensing authorities up and down the country, Mr Justice Ouseley and Lord Justice Treacy ruled that a single breach of a procedural requirement upon which a prosecution depends does not automatically mean that prosecution will fail.
The defendants, Call a Cab Ltd., were prosecuted by Aylesbury Vale District Council for operating a private hire vehicle without a licence. However, the defendants claimed that the Council had failed to carry out the correct procedures in 1989 when they sought to adopt the private hire controls in Part 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. The Magistrates’ Court accepted the defendants’ argument, ruling that a failure to notify 12 out of the 112 parish councils in the district meant that the Act had never been validly adopted and the prosecution therefore failed.
On appeal to the High Court, Mr Justice Ouseley (with whom Lord Justice Treacy agreed) ruled that the starting point must be the statutory context read as a whole and that is was significant in this case that the defendants had suffered no prejudice because the Act did not require notification to them, but to the parish councils.
Finally he said that the magistrate should have considered the degree to which there had been "substantial compliance" with the procedural requirement, echoing the words of Lord Woolf in R v SSHD ex parte Jeyeanthan  1 WLR 354.
Interestingly, although Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the Council's first ground of appeal (which concerned the inferences the District Judge drew from the lack of mention of receipt of any notices in parish council minutes) he did comment as to a number of different ways councils might be able to demonstrate service and, most importantly, confirmed that any Court examining the matter should start from the presumption that the Council had done what it ought to have done.
The Divisional Court remitted the matter back to the Magistrates' court for further consideration.