Facts: The applicant, a citizen of Bangladesh, held a residence permit in the State on the basis of marriage to an EU citizen. The marriage dissolved and the applicant applied to retain his residence permit. This was refused in May 2019. The applicant sought a review of this decision, and a decision on this review was issued in March 2021, upholding the initial decision. In the interim, the applicant was granted a series of temporary immigration permissions allowing him to remain in the State and engage in employment. In 2019, the applicant submitted an application for a Small Public Service Vehicle (SPSV) driver’s licence. SPSV licences are required to drive a taxi. He was notified that he was not a “suitable person” to hold an SPSV driver’s licence as he did not hold an immigration permission. This decision was overturned, and he was then issued a licence for the duration of his immigration permission. When the applicant went to renew his licence, he was again refused on the ground he was not a “suitable person”.
The appellant sought judicial review of two decisions. First, the decision to not grant a licence for a five-year period, but rather, for a shorter period having regard to his immigration status. Second, the decision to have regard to his immigration status in assessing good character and determining if he was a suitable person to hold a licence. In March 2021, the appellant’s temporary immigration permission was not renewed.
Reasoning: With regard to the first decision, Simons J. noted that regulation 7(3) of the Taxi Regulation (Small Public Service Vehicle) Regulations 2015 provides that a SPSV licence is valid for five years. Relying on the literal interpretation of this provision, it was held that it cannot be said that the duration of an SPSV driver’s licence must always be coterminous with the duration of an applicant’s immigration permission. The court noted that the 2015 Regulations do not address immigration status in the context of licensing drivers. However, given that the applicant’s residence permission was not renewed, Simons J held that an order of remittal was found to not be appropriate.
With regard to the second decision, the court noted that the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 envisages that the National Transport Authority (NTA) will be the licensing authority and that the NTA is responsible for setting the terms and conditions related to granting licences. Simons J noted that the NTA’s regulations on applications for a SPSV driver’s licence do not refer to immigration status. Under section 10 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the licensing authority is precluded from issuing a licence unless it is satisfied that the applicant is a “suitable person”. The High Court judge was satisfied that while the term is undefined, criteria such as being of good character and any concerns raised by the NTA or Garda Commissioner, among others, can be considered. Currently, An Garda Síochána act as the licensing authority on an interim basis and in February 2020, they changed the licensing policy. Previously, persons were issued with a licence for the duration of their immigration permission, however, under the new policy, regard was to be had to both the nature and length of the immigration permission, and where an applicant was on a short and temporary permission this would be taken into account in assessing suitability. Applicants on short and temporary permissions would, for the most part, not be deemed suitable.
Decision: It was held that the licencing authority cannot refuse to issue an SPSV licence because a person held a temporary immigration permission, and it cannot issue licences for periods of less than five years. However, the licensing authority can have regard to adverse findings made against the applicant in the context of the immigration process when assessing their ‘good character’.