Uber drivers accused of driving illegally could have applied for permit, Hong Kong court hears

Prosecution refutes defence claim that the law barred the five defendants from qualifying

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 9:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 10:23pm

The five Uber drivers accused of driving without legal hire car permits in August last year could have applied or driven cars licensed with the permits but they did not do so, according to prosecutors in the city’s landmark case.

Deputy director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC yesterday refuted a defence claim that it was impossible for drivers offering roving car-hiring services to get the permit.

Adrian Huggins QC had argued the existing law barred such drivers because they could not have provided the Commissioner of Transport with information needed to process their applications, nor could they have fulfilled licensing conditions, such as starting each journey from a registered address and only when an advance booking was made.

His clients, aged 29 to 53, have each denied one count of driving a vehicle for hire without a permit and one count of using a vehicle without third-party insurance between August 11 and 12 last year. They are Chan Kin-fung, Chan Tsz-lun, Lau Kwan-wing, Sunny Leung Hoi-shun, and Luk Chun-pong.

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The defence counsel said the impossibility of obtaining a permit infringed the men’s fundamental right to freedom of occupation as provided by Article 33 in the Basic Law.

But Leung told Kowloon City Court that such a right is neither absolute nor unconditional.

He said Article 33 only meant people were not forced to take up an occupation. It is a lesser right than the right to work, he said, and must be balanced with the public’s right to expect they will enjoy “a safe, efficient, reliable, environmentally friendly and ­sustainable transport system”.

“[Road Traffic Ordinance] does not prohibit any person from taking up the occupation of driving private vehicles for hire or reward,” he continued. “It does not put on a blanket ban.”

The only requirement was for the driver to own a car with a permit or borrow a car from a friend who has the permit, he said.

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Employed drivers serving families or their friends do not need permits, nor do drivers carrying employees in the car owner’s business, he explained. But a permit is required if the driver uses his employer’s car to take members of the public for hire or reward.

Leung added the permits were not subjected to mandatory conditions as suggested by defence.

One example was the condition that the service could only be operated from an address specified in the issued permit and registered with the commissioner.

The prosecutor said the restriction only required the driver to have a business address, but not to commence the journey from the address.

The case continues before magistrate So Wai-tak.