Commuters launch Judicial Review to hold Grayling to account

Local Tories, who for the past couple of months have been disingenuously pumping out the party line that it is the unions who are responsible for the appalling mismanagement of Southern Rail services, will be dismayed to learn that a commuter group are to drag transport secretary Chris Grayling and the politicised Department for Transport to the High Court.

Another overcrowded Southern service: the Tory Government's answer is to axe 350 trains per day

Another overcrowded Southern service: the Tory government faces a legal case

The Association of British Commuters announced today that it has applied to the court for a Judicial Review of DafT’s handling of Southern’s management contract.

“It is right that our fellow passengers will now play a part in bringing the government to account for the damage Southern Rail has caused to so many thousands of lives,” they said.

ABC raised £26,000 in donations from commuters in September towards the costs of the legal action. With the “entry fee” for a Judicial Review somewhere north of £15,000, and up against a Tory-run government department which will think nothing of spending 10 times as much of tax-payers’ money to defend its case, the chances are that ABC will need additional financial support, and soon.

ABC relates that they have already encountered costly delaying tactics, with DafT failing to answer Freedom of Information requests, or to provide documents for the case promptly.

Given some of the grounds lodged at the High Court in the Strand this morning, ABC’s case will seek to demonstrate that the problems with Southern have been created as a deliberate government policy, putting commuters’ lives and livelihoods at risk and discriminating against disabled passengers.

The funding appeal was launched soon after Southern had been running its “emergency” timetable, with a much-reduced service.

Up before the court: Tory transport minister Chris Grayling

Up before the court: Tory transport minister Chris Grayling

ABC says that the situation then had forced to them to consider a “last resort”.

Today they said, “That it has got so much worse, and the DfT have still not acted, beggars belief. Commuters have long since passed the point of exhaustion, and it is a matter of shame for the DfT that we have had to go to such great lengths to demand action be taken.

“For over 18 months we have experienced severe delays and dangerously overcrowded trains and platforms, which form a major compromise to passenger safety,” ABC said.

“On a rail network already stretched to capacity, this summer became a nightmare for commuters on the Southern Rail network and barely a day goes by that we don’t hear of someone losing their job or relocating their home and family due to the sheer impossibility of living with this daily catastrophe.

“Most worrying of all are the health and safety concerns – it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ someone gets hurt, it’s more a question of ‘when’… We at the Association of British Commuters have heard stories of panic attacks, overheating, and even the appalling scenario of disabled people unable to get on and off trains and so left unable to travel.”

ABC will have a High Court judge examine the evidence which they say will show the Department for Transport’s ongoing failure to hold Southern’s operators, Govia Thameslink Railway, to account for the long-term breakdown of service on Southern Rail.

ABC’s case files outline two distinct areas:

(1) Delay – we believe the Secretary of State has acted unlawfully by failing to determine and announce within a reasonable time whether GTR is in breach of its franchise obligations; and
(2) Discrimination – we believe that the Secretary of State has failed to comply with his duties under the Equality Act 2010 and has as a result caused indirect discrimination to passengers with disabilities.

Point (1) could cause deep embarrassment for Croydon South MP Chris Philp.

Before Philp started reciting the Conservative mantra of “It’s all the unions’ fault” (something which was devised, probably by Tory Central Office, soon after a memo from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was discovered saying that he’s never hand over the railway to a Labour Mayor of London), this was very close to the complaints which he was making on behalf of his constituents.

Commuters protesting at their previous demonstration at Victoria,in July

ABC protesting at Victoria in July. There will be more protests and fund-raising during the court case

ABC said today, “These unlawful acts are ongoing. ABC is seeking declaratory relief – that is, a court finding that the Secretary of State has acted or is acting unlawfully.

“Today’s application to Court is the outcome of five months’ of hard work, a process slowed considerably by the DfT’s resistance to providing transparency on its contractual relationship with GTR; repeatedly delaying FoI requests, which have only just been completed.

“Without transparency, there is no way to clarify the true causes of this unprecedented rail crisis. There has long ceased to be any justification for the Secretary of State’s ‘hands off’ approach to a company that is his Department’s direct contractor.”

Grayling, or the civil servants at DafT covering his and their own arses, will have 21 days to respond to the High Court application. ABC is already preparing to run a second crowdfunding exercise to meet the anticipated additional costs.

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