A TAXI boss has won his test case against “big brother” spy cameras in cabs.
Kevin May triumphed in his legal battle against Southampton City Council’s requirement to fit digital security cameras that record images and conversations in his taxis.
It could pave the way for around 300 other Hackney carriage and private hire taxis with the cameras already fitted to follow suit, while more than 400 who are yet to install the devices might not need to.
Mr May, the city’s largest taxi owner and a director of the biggest firm Radio Taxis, argued the licensing rule breached Article 8 of Human Rights Act.
He said this was because the compulsory CCTV surveillance invaded both the driver and the passenger’s right to privacy.
In 2009 the city council became one of the first councils in England bring in a compulsory requirement for cameras in cabs.
Cabbies cannot switch off the cameras, which cost £700 to install, even when they are using them for family or personal reasons.
But district judge Anthony Callaway ruled the CCTV policy showed “insufficient regard to the respective rights of both passengers and drivers”.
And while he said cameras could curb crime, this alone did not show “pressing social need” for them.
Mr May, who said he has spent £15,000 of his own money in his two-year legal battle, said the verdict was “absolutely correct”.
He said: “There is no consideration whatsoever for the driver or the public’s privacy.
“Big brother is always watching and never switches off. I think there is no difference in them installing them in taxis and their council houses.
“I have nothing against cameras but it should be the driver’s choice.”
Southampton Trade Association chairman Clive Johnson said: “I am very pleased that it has been realised that this is an encroachment on human rights.”
Ian Hall, chairman of the Southampton Hackney Association said: “Cameras are a good idea as a deterrent, particularly at night. Whether the camera should be compulsory is another matter.”
During the court hearing the city council insisted there was an overriding public protection issue in having the cameras.
The court was told that in 2008 and 2009 alone there were seven alleged sexual assaults in taxis in the city.
Peter Savill, representing the city council, said: “It is the council’s duty to protect people. The passenger has the right not to be sexually assaulted.
“When you buy the taxi and licence you submit to a regulatory regime.
“Once a vehicle is licensed as a Hackney carriage it’s always a Hackney carriage.”
In evidence, the council said it had downloaded 32 “incidents” from the cameras – averaging fewer than once a month – after crime reports to the police.
Speaking after the ruling, city council licensing manager Richard Black said: “We introduced this scheme in 2009 in a bid to make journeys in all licensed vehicles safer for both drivers and passengers.
“The cameras act as good deterrent. The footage from the cameras can only be accessed by the council or the police if an allegation is made. It can then be used as evidence to help bring people to justice if a crime has been committed.”
Hampshire Police, meanwhile, said the footage from the CCTV cameras helped in deterring and solving crimes and would be backing the council’s appeal.
Inspector Phil Bates, of the Violent Crime and Licensing Southampton, said: “The council have put in place effective management of the system to ensure data is only used when a matter is being investigated.”