Belfast taxi firm withdraws appeal over 'publicity stunt' branding

Vehicle identification Taxi service. (CTK Photo/Petr Malina)
Picture by: Malina Petra/PA Images
Date taken: 29-Mar-2022
Last month a High Court judge granted an order restraining firm FonaValue & 7 Seater Taxi Ltd from passing itself off as either Value Cabs or fonaCAB. Credit: PA Images

The owner of a Belfast taxi firm has withdrawn his appeal against a court order to stop operating under its current branding.

Michael Hicks' challenge to the injunction secured by Value Cabs and fonaCAB in a joint breach of trademark action ended after it was branded “a publicity stunt”.

The two companies issued proceedings over the apparent merging of their names to set up a new taxi operation.

Their lawyers also claimed a £2.5m payment was demanded when they raised issues about the rival service established in January 2020.

Last month, a High Court judge granted an order restraining Mr Hicks’ firm FonaValue & 7 Seater Taxi Ltd from passing itself off as either Value Cabs or fonaCAB.

The prohibition, issued at a hearing the businessman did not attend, covers its current name and logo, Facebook page and booking app.

At the time, Mr Justice McAlinden held there had been an “utterly shameless and blatant attempt to extort money”.

Days later, Mr Hicks told a newspaper that he intended to fight the injunction.

Insisting that no laws were broken, he described being “shocked and horrified” at the order.

But at the Court of Appeal on Thursday, his newly instructed legal representative acknowledged any attempt to vary or discharge the order should instead go before the judge who made it.

Barrister Chris Sherrard announced: “I have been able to provide advice to my client, and my application on his instructions is to withdraw both appeals.

“The correct forum is recourse to the High Court.”

Value Cabs and fonaCAB both sued for trademark infringement, claiming the new firm represented an attack on their brands and goodwill.

Counsel for the two companies, Peter Girvan, told the court the initially lodged grounds for appeal were “defective and meritless”.

“This appellant had made much of this appeal in the media, and had posted the various court receipts for the appeal online,” Mr Girvan said.

“It seems to us to have been somewhat of a publicity stunt.”

He also suggested there may be issues around a potential alleged contempt of the injunction.

“For example, (Mr Hicks) was ordered to change the company name within seven days, and he hasn’t,” the barrister claimed.

“It’s important given that this appellant used the appeal as a platform to gain publicity, that we say our position publicly.”

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan agreed that the proper legal route involves going back to the High Court.

“It is right that this appeal is defective and was not going to be sustainable,” she said.

“I will accede to the application (to withdraw) the appeal.”

Declining to make any determination on allegations it had been motivated by publicity, Dame Siobhan added: “They may resurface when this case returns, if it does return, to the first instance judge.”