A rare case on the duty of a local council not to cause psychiatric injury to a cab driver applying for a licence has culminated this week in the authority obtaining a charging order on the driver’s home.

Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) had negligently informed Muhammad Arshad his hackney carriage would meet its policy for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. But a later inspection found that the second-hand Ford Galaxy did not meet the requirements and the council sent Arshad a licence suspension notice. 

Arshad, who had held a hackney carriage licence since 2006, subsequently developed a depressive disorder and sued the council for psychiatric harm. He succeeded following a trial in 2021 and Deputy District Judge Lindsay awarded Arshad £42,500 in damages and costs. 

WBC made an interim payment of £10,000 but then successfully appealed to the High Court on the issue of duty to avoid causing psychiatric harm.

In September 2022, Mr Justice Bourne ruled that the suspension, though it ‘threatened his livelihood’, did not actually prevent Arshad from working. He drew a comparison to a Court of Appeal case of Yapp v Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in which the Foreign Office was not responsible for the depressive illness which the British High Commissioner in Belize suffered after he was suspended from work. Yapp showed that ‘even a serious threat to a person’s career, by itself, is not enough’ to establish a duty not to cause pure psychiatric harm, the judge added.

Mr Justice Bourne concluded: 'It seems to me that whilst any serious setback may be capable of causing a degree of psychiatric harm to anyone, psychiatric injury in this case was not so reasonably foreseeable as to make it appropriate for a local authority, giving discretionary pre-application advice on a licensing matter, to owe a duty of care not to cause pure psychiatric harm.'

Arshad was ordered to repay the interim payment of £10,000 by October 2022, but at a hearing at Reading County Court this week, it was revealed he still had not paid the money, prompting WBC to seek a charging order.

The former cab driver, appearing in person, argued this would cause him undue financial hardship and said it was part of ‘ongoing victimisation’ by WBC. He added that he was receiving treatment for PTSD and had been unable to find work - despite applying to Reading Buses, Thames Valley Police and the AA - since the case.

The court ordered a charging order in the sum of £11,469.82, having added interest at the judgment rate of 8% and some costs of the application.