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The Observer: Judge in Uber’s London legal battle steps aside over husband’s links to firm

Emma Arbuthnot, who gave a licence back to Uber, acts over potential conflict of interest

Yesterday the Observer newspaper reported that the Judge who presided at Uber’s London Operators licence appeal has stepped away from the case because of a possible conflict of interest in the case

The possible conflict arises because she is married to Lord Arbuthnot, who is a Tory Peer nominated by former PM David Cameron. Until December 31st last year, and three weeks into the start of the company’s appeal, Lord Arbuthnot was still the director of SC Strategy Ltd, which advised one of Uber’s largest investors, the Qatar Investment Authority.

David Cameron himself is shrouded in Uber controversy with the Daily Mail reporting practises of a culture of Chumocracy within the Tory party where Uber is concerned. Uber was licenced to operate in London by fellow Tory, and the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Labour MPs Wes Streeting and Andy McDonald asked questions in the House of Commons over Cameron’s favourable attitude towards Uber. Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan refused Uber a renewal of its licence last September.

From yesterday’s Observer report…

Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate whose judgment reinstated Uber’s London licence after it was judged not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator, has withdrawn from hearing further appeals by the company after an Observer investigation raised questions into links between her husband’s work and the company.

Lady Arbuthnot, who is married to senior Tory Lord Arbuthnot, approved a probationary 15-month licence for Uber to operate in the capital in June. Her ruling was a lifeline for the company, which in September had been told that Transport for London would not renew its licence. However, after the Observer highlighted her husband’s work for a strategy firm that has advised one of Uber’s largest investors, a spokesman for the judiciary confirmed that Arbuthnot would not hear Uber-related cases in the future. “The chief magistrate had been due to hear a licensing appeal by Uber in Brighton at a date yet to be fixed,” the spokesman said.

“However, as soon as this link was pointed out to her, she assigned the case to a fellow judge. It is essential that judges not only are, but are seen to be, absolutely impartial.” The spokesman said it was the first time that such a connection had been brought to the chief magistrate’s attention.

The spokesman for the judiciary said the chief magistrate and her husband had been unaware that the QIA was an investor in Uber or had any links to it. The spokesman added: “The judiciary will have to consider whether the new information could be seen to change the perception of absolute impartiality.” Magistrates are bound by the Judicial Code of Conduct. It acknowledges that even the appearance of a possible conflict of interest may disqualify them. It ensures that a judge will be mindful of such possible conflicts and can draw relevant matters to the attention of the parties in the case. It states: “The question whether an appearance of bias or possible conflict of interest is sufficient to disqualify an officeholder from hearing a case is the subject of Strasbourg, English and Welsh and Commonwealth jurisprudence.”

Commenting at a recent TfL Board meeting, Unite’s Bronwen Handyside and TUC delegate to the TfL Board  commenting on Arbuthnot’s decision on Uber, said:

I must say that I am extremely disappointed in the Magistrate’s decision to grant Uber ‘s appeal and give them a further 15 month licence. This is a company that: Continues to exploit cross-border hiring – meaning that thousands of vehicles licenced in London are operating outside of London where London regulations can’t be enforced. Whose business model is designed to avoid paying tax in the UK That has tried to evade TFL regulations since it arrived in London This in my opinion continues to make Uber not a fit and proper person to operate a service.

Posted by Peter Rose @peterjrose1

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