The Conservative government will once again be appearing in court on Thursday 29 June. And this time, the case is such that it could throw into question the privatisation agenda of an entire industry. It also comes just days after the leaking of an explosive report; one which the government wanted to be kept quiet.
Tories in the dock?
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) has applied for a hearing into a judicial review over the government’s handling of the Southern Rail crisis. This is a legal process whereby the High Court reviews how the Department for Transport (DfT) has dealt with the rail company. If the government is found not to have fulfilled its duties, the court can declare the DfT’s actions unlawful, forcing the government to intervene to resolve the crisis.
But the ABC believes this could have wider implications. It says:
29 June will be the gateway to a judicial review that will set major precedents for both rail franchising and disability access. This will have a great impact on rail transport all over the UK – as well as bringing the culprits of the Southern Rail crisis finally to account.
The ABC grew because of grassroots efforts among angry Southern commuters. But because of the state of Southern Rail, the group decided to crowdfund to take legal action. Initially, a judicial review application was refused by just a single judge. But the ABC was granted a public hearing into this decision, which is taking place on 29 June. The two areas the ABC wants a judicial review to look into are:
- Delay. The ABC believes the Conservative government has acted unlawfully. This is because it delayed deciding whether Southern Rail’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), breached its franchise agreement.
- Discrimination. The ABC also believes the government has breached the Equality Act 2010. And has as a result caused indirect discrimination to disabled passengers.
Blowing the whistle for passengers
The ‘delay’ element relates to the government’s failure to enforce GTR contractual obligations. Namely, the ABC believes that the company has failed to meet its performance targets; and also that the government has done nothing to try and remedy this.
The ‘discrimination’ element relates to the government’s alleged breaches of disabled people’s rights. Namely, that the ABC believes Southern Rail has breached the Equality Act 2010. This is because it scrapped full disabled access at 33 stations; scrapped guards on some services; and the government apparently failed to force GTR to act to stop this.
The DfT said it would not comment on “ongoing legal proceedings”. A GTR spokesperson said: “The subject of a judicial review is a matter for the Department for Transport.” But all this comes just days after the ABC leaked an explosive report into the state of UK rail travel.
Failure after failure
On Monday 26 June, the ABC leaked a report written in 2015 (and then promptly buried) by what is now the Rail Delivery Group. Called On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel, it detailed what ABC has been arguing about the loss of guards/conductors and driver-only operation (DOO) trains: that they are both in breach of the Equality Act 2010. As the ABC said:
The report supports ABC’s arguments… stating that the practice of running unstaffed trains, running to unstaffed stations is a breach of the Equality Act. It says definitively: ‘It is Conductors who are best placed to ensure that assistance is delivered effectively and in accordance with the law’.
You can read the full report here.
A major headache
All of this is a major headache for the Conservative government. With public support for rail renationalisation consistently high, and the Tories barely clinging onto power, the government is on the ropes. As Emily Yates from the ABC told The Canary:
We’re going to court today to finally get a permission hearing on the public’s right to scrutiny of the government. This is the biggest battle yet for ABC and, if successful, we hope we might finally be able to solve the industrial dispute over DOO.
In the past fortnight alone, ABC has released two major exposés. One on urgent safety work that was postponed at Victoria Station, and the other a shocking revelation that the Rail Delivery Group have a report in their possession strongly arguing the need to keep the guards on the trains, and have been holding it back for two years.
We’d be so grateful if you could donate and share our fighting fund. Whatever happens in court, we will be coming out stronger than ever with further arguments and revelations, and we will not give up!
In short, it’s looking increasingly like both Southern Rail and May’s government could be quickly running out of track.
– Rail users who’ve suffered because of Southern Rail can contact ABC via [email protected] .
– Donate to the ABC fighting fund.
Featured image via YouTube