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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Judge in Uber’s London legal battle steps aside over Qatar link

Judge Emma Arbuthnot, who reinstated Uber’s licence in London, quit the case over alleged conflict of interest

The judge hearing the Uber licence court battle in London has stepped down over a potential conflict of interest. AFP
The judge hearing the Uber licence court battle in London has stepped down over a potential conflict of interest. AFP

The judge who ruled on Uber’s right to operate in London has stepped down from the case over her husband’s links to a Qatari investor in the ride-hailing app.

Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate who awarded the company a 15-month probationary licence in June amid a bitter dispute with the city authorities, has withdrawn from further hearings after questions were raised about potential conflicts of interest.

Her husband, James Arbuthnot, a former MP for the ruling Conservative party, worked for a strategy firm that advised the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which has invested in the ride-hailing app.

“The chief magistrate had been due to hear a licensing appeal by Uber in Brighton at a date to be fixed,” a spokesperson for the for the judiciary said.

“As soon as the link was pointed out to her, she assigned the case to a fellow judge. It is essential that judges not only are, but are seen to be, absolutely impartial.”

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Mr Arbuthnot was a director of SC Strategy Ltd until 31 December 2017, three weeks after the start of Uber’s London appeal. One of SC Strategy’s few known clients is QIA.

Judge Arbuthnot’s ruling had salvaged Uber’s right to operate, after it was deemed not a “fit and proper” company in September 2017 over a number of issues that included the company’s failure to report serious criminal offences and the use of technology to allegedly evade law enforcement.

According to her ruling, the appointment of a new management team in the UK was a factor in granting a new licence.

Transport officials said that almost half of all drivers working for a private hire or taxi operators that were convicted of a sexual offence last year were working for Uber.

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