Instructing staff to break the law – what and why ?

In an extraordinary recent development, a well known and respected company director has encouraged his staff to break the law. This raises many moral and legal issues, and we would also have thought the potential of personal liability for the individual in question, not just corporate liability.

Bus lanes are not limited to buses. Cyclist, motorcycles and taxis (black cabs) are all permitted to use them. Normal vehicles are permitted to use some bus lanes during certain hours, which are marked before the bus lane and at certain points throughout the lane. If there is no sign then it usually means that the bus lane is in operation constantly.

However, private hire cab company Addison Lee in London is now advising its drivers to use bus lanes. This is because the company believes that bus lanes are discriminating against private hire vehicles. Addison Lee currently has 3,500 self employed minicabs and 200 VIP cars on the road. Its drivers make 25,000 journeys every day throughout London.

Addison Lee’s actions come after the company was granted judicial review on the use of bus lanes, the result of which could take months. In the meantime the company’s chairman has urged drivers to use the bus lanes, except for the lanes in the City of London which restrict all taxis. Addison Lee has agreed to indemnify all their drivers who are fined as a result of the company’s advice. Currently fines for driving in bus lanes during operational hours can be up to £1,000, although usually they are only up to £130 per offense.

It is not the first time that Addison Lee has taken such action in advising its drivers. In 2010, the company’s chairman advised drivers to use the motorway bus lane on the M4. Many of the drivers that did so were fined, but these were later quashed, before the lane was returned to a normal traffic lane.

Addison Lee’s actions have caused a stir amongst other road users, mainly black cab drivers and cyclists, who believe that the company’s stance will cause problems on the roads and will be a danger to cyclists.

Transport for London (TFL) has also been quick to condemn Addison Lee. They have threatened that private hire drivers could be liable to criminal prosecution if they are caught driving in bus lanes. They affirm that private hire drivers will be held personally liable for their actions, regardless of any indemnity provided to them by their employers, while adding that regulatory action will be taken against Addison Lee, which could result in the company losing its licence to operate.

Since the time of writing, a High Court ruling has banned the company from encouraging its drivers to use bus lanes, whilst ordering the courts to speed up judicial review of the matter. If this was some kind of PR stunt by the company it could well prove to be a very expensive and ill thought out mistake. We shall see.