Richard Leedham is a Partner at Mishcon de Reya, the London law firm leading Cabbie Group Action, the claim on behalf of Licensed Taxi Drivers against Uber. In this article, he answers some questions about the claim.
What's the case all about?
We want to bring a claim in the High Court of England and Wales on behalf of licensed taxi drivers in London against Uber. The claim is based on the loss of income we know so many drivers have suffered as a result of Uber's unlawful operations since they came to London in 2012.
Many have criticised the case because they say the black cab trade have failed to modernise and that Uber's success is just an example of lawful competition.
The claim isn't about stopping Uber operating or based on complaints around uncompetitive behaviour. Competition on price, innovation, service and quality is a positive thing. What it is about is holding Uber to account for what we believe are their unlawful operations since 2012. We believe they failed to adhere to the statutory framework which regulates the London taxi trade and this has been to the detriment of licensed taxi drivers that have been operating lawfully. Uber should not be able to get away with this and Cabbie Group Action aims to hold them to account.
How did the claim come about? How did the action group begin? Who initiated the original idea?
London is renowned for its iconic black cabs and, given the allegations of Uber’s unlawful operations in a number of places, it was only a matter of time until Uber’s activity in London came under scrutiny. The team at Mishcon researched the issues involved and discussed them with key stakeholders in the London cab trade. I have experience in working on large multi party claims and we identified that the case would work well as a group action. I also regularly work with third party litigation funders, such as Harbour Litigation Funding, and together we established Cabbie Group Action.
What is Mishcon's role and who will make decisions about the case?
Mishcon will act as the lawyers on the claim. At the moment we are focusing on building support for the claim through Cabbie Group Action. We want as many drivers as possible to hear about the claim and register their interest through the website. We will then provide enough information to those drivers for them to decide whether they want to proceed with the claim, the first part of which will be to become a client of Mishcon. This is called the "book building" phase.
Once this phase is complete, a representative committee of drivers will be formed to take decisions about the claim and give instructions to Mishcon on behalf of the group. In actions such as this, where this is such a large group of claimants, representative committees are very common. We will provide details to all interested drivers on how the committee will operate in due course.
Who is Harbour?
Harbour is a leading litigation funding firm. Harbour will be funding the group action, subject to a minimum number of drivers signing up, and will pay all of the legal costs in return for a share of any damages received. It means cabbies will not have to pay their own legal fees. If the group action is not successful, it also means they won’t have to repay Harbour. It is only when there is a win, and damages have been received, that Harbour will get a pre-agreed share of the award.
Why are you taking action against Uber, rather than TfL? Don’t TfL carry the blame for what has happened?
Cabbie Group Action focuses on Uber's alleged unlawful behaviour between 2012 and at the least the end of 2017. We completely appreciate the trade's frustration towards TFL, but this action is focused on Uber's unlawful activities.
The separate group action proposed by the UGC shows the strength of feeling that exists in the taxi trade on this issue. Cabbie Group Action benefits from a focused and streamlined approach which we consider has the best chances of addressing the damage that has been caused by Uber's unlawful actions. A legal finding that Uber has operated unlawfully should force the regulator to come to the correct conclusion over Uber's suitability to hold an Operator's license.
Cabbie Group Action is a fully funded claim with no costs to the drivers themselves. In only six weeks our Cabbie Group Action campaign has already signed up almost a third of the entire fleet of taxi drivers in London and continues to add sign ups on a daily basis. With legal counsel from Mishcon de Reya, who have an enviable track record and financial backing from Harbour Litigation Funding we believe we can have a real impact for taxi drivers.
How many drivers do you need to sign up and what kind of compensation will they receive?
We want as many drivers as possible to be part of the claim and have been really encouraged with the numbers that have signed up so far. It is too early to tell what level of compensation drivers are likely to receive: as we collect data from participants we will be able to more accurately and robustly estimate the loss attributable to Uber's unlawful operation.
Can drivers who have not suffered a loss financially, but worked more hours to achieve the same income, make a claim for losses?
At this stage, we need to gather as much evidence as we can in order to put together the best possible case, this includes a drop in earnings as well as having to work longer hours. If you have suffered a negative impact in either of these ways from Uber’s unlawful operations, you may be eligible to take part.
How confident of success are you?
We wouldn’t be working on this if we didn’t think that the claim against Uber was a good one. While nothing is certain, we have significant experience in group litigation. In recent years we have acted successfully for claimant groups in cases involving RBS and Royal Mail.
Does this group action stop any future legal cases against both Uber and the regulators?
This group action only relates to the period between 2012, when Uber entered the market, and the end of 2017. It does not prejudice any future legal cases against Uber outside of this period or which relate to different facts. It is also separate to any action against the regulator.
If Uber offer to settle outside of court, who accepts/rejects the offer?
The representative committee mentioned above will take decisions about the conduct of the litigation, including whether to accept or reject a settlement offer.
What is the next step?
The book build phase, during which we hope to sign up as many drivers as possible, is ongoing. Those who have expressed an interest will be hearing from us soon regarding how they sign up as a client of Mishcon de Reya and will receive further information about how the claim will work and what it will involve.
What roles do the trade stakeholders backing this action play in the group action? Is there any financial incentive for them to be involved?
We are delighted that so many stakeholders in the cab trade, including TaxiPoint, have been supportive of the group action. They play a key role in encouraging cabbies to sign up to take part. None of the trade stakeholders are receiving a financial incentive in exchange for their support. They are backing this because Uber should be held responsible for its actions.
So how do I sign up?
The best way to sign up to express your interest is by visiting www.cabbiegroupaction.co.uk