By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - Uber will defend its right to operate in London in court next year after the app was deemed unfit to run a taxi service and stripped of its licence in its most important European market.
Regulator Transport for London (TfL) shocked the Silicon Valley firm by rejecting its licence renewal bid in September, citing its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
Uber's 40,000 drivers, representing around one in three of all private hire vehicles on the British capital's roads, can continue to take passengers until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take years.
The legal battle pitches one of the world's richest cities against a tech giant known for its forays into new markets around the world that have prompted bans, restrictions and protests, including by drivers of London's famous black cabs.
At a case management hearing on Monday, the chief magistrate at Westminster Magistrates' Court Emma Arbuthnot said she hoped to hear the appeal over five days from April 30, although the start date could be pushed back due to scheduling clashes.
Further hearings will take place next week to decide whether the GMB trade union and the London Taxi Drivers' Association can participate in the case.
Months of further legal wrangling are likely unless the app, valued at around $70 billion (£52.4 billion) with investors including Goldman Sachs, can come to a new arrangement with the regulator.
Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has apologised to Londoners and met TfL Commissioner Mike Brown in October for what both sides described as constructive talks.
Brown told Reuters in November that "there are some discussions going on to make sure they are compliant."
"We continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this," an Uber spokesman said ahead of Monday's hearing. "As our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, we are determined to make things right."
Losing its London licence was just one of many blows to Uber this year as a stream of executives left amid controversies involving allegations of sexual harassment and issues surrounding data privacy and business practices.
In Britain, Uber is looking to appoint a new boss after Jo Bertram announced her departure less than two weeks after London's decision.
It also faces potential problems in the northern English city of Sheffield where its licence has been suspended and in Brighton, southern England, where local officials extended the firm's licence for only six months to give them more time to consider the outcome of the dispute in London.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Keith Weir)