Sunday, July 09, 2017

Anti-Uber activist Russell Howarth ordered to pay $400,000 in legal costs

An anti-Uber activist who was slapped with a court order banning him from intimidating and harassing drivers has been ordered to pay almost $400,000 in legal costs, in the final chapter of a protracted court battle.

Russell Howarth, a self-proclaimed anti-Uber advocate who performed citizen's arrests in a campaign against the ride-sharing service, was permanently restrained by the Supreme Court in April from threatening or harassing Uber drivers and users of the app.


Back in 2014, Russell Howarth was best known for carrying out his numerous citizen's arrests in his battle to bring the taxi industry's hi-tech rival, UberX, to heel.

Mr Howarth, an undischarged bankrupt, represented himself during the bulk of the proceedings while Uber was represented by three barristers including Sydney silk Bruce McClintock.

In a decision last week, Justice Michael Slattery ordered Mr Howarth to pay $391,152 in costs, representing about 60 per cent of Uber's total legal bill.


Russell Howarth has been hit with a $400,000 costs bill after a legal battle with Uber. Photo: Steven Siewert
Justice Slattery said the barristers' fees alone were $433,564 and it was a "single strong indicator" that the amount sought by Uber was "not excessive".

The solicitors' fees were an additional $195,651 and other costs were just over $30,000.

Mr Howarth rose to prominence through a series of stunts starting in 2014 in which he would book an Uber ride and, when the transaction was complete, perform a citizen's arrest of the driver for breaching the state's Passenger Transport Act.

The law was subsequently changed in NSW in late 2015 to legalise Uber and other ride-sharing services.

In his judgment in April, Justice Slattery noted that "not every contravention of the law that a citizen witnesses will authorise the conduct of a citizen's arrest".

He also said a contravention of passenger transport regulations was not a serious offence that would "readily attract the citizen's power of arrest".

Mr Howarth had not established that the arrests were necessary in the circumstances, Justice Slattery said, and he could have used his mobile phone to take videos of the drivers and their vehicle registration details to pass onto the police.

The court heard Mr Howarth performed nine citizens' arrests of Uber drivers, starting in late 2014, until the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction in July 2015.

Justice Slattery said that while this "stopped the arrests" the "intimidation and harassment continued". This included an incident on the Anzac Bridge in August 2015 in which Mr Howarth followed an Uber driver at close range and "terrorised" him.

The court heard Mr Howarth asked the driver, "Don't you know who I am?"

"[The driver], who genuinely up until then had not heard of Mr Howarth's campaign against Uber, responded 'No,'" Justice Slattery said.

Justice Slattery granted a permanent injunction restraining Mr Howarth from intimidating or harassing Uber drivers and passengers, and restricting his ability to make citizen's arrests to cases involving a serious offence.

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