Pressure group the Association of British Commuters (ABC) has sent a letter before action to transport secretary Chris Grayling.
The letter sets out the legal grounds on which the group is applying for permission to bring a judicial review of the DfT. The group wants action taken over the Southern Rail crisis; Southern has been embroiled in a nine-month dispute with the RMT union over the role of the guard and there has been huge disruption for passengers.
Among the legal grounds ABC mentions are equality of access rights for disabled passengers. Lawyers from Devonshire Solicitors acting on behalf of the ABC will argue that by failing to monitor the franchise, Grayling allows Southern's parent company Govia "to indirectly discriminate against disabled passengers", in conflict with sections 19 and 149 of the Equality Act.
ABC's list of legal grounds:
- The unlawful lack of transparency surrounding the secretary of state's monitoring and enforcement of Govia's franchise agreement and remedial plan
- The unlawful failure of the secretary of state to adequately inform himself of the facts in order to comply with his duty to monitor and enforce the franchise agreement
- The unlawful failure of the secretary of state to comply with his own Equality Act 2010 duties by failing to monitor and enforce the obligation to provide an adequate train service for disabled passengers
- Assuming that Govia in breach of its agreement (a fact which is obscured by the DfT's ongoing lack of transparency) the failure to penalise Govia for its failure to meet performance benchmarks, amounting to unlawful state aid
Disabled passengers no longer have access to an adequate train service resulting in frequent and serious overcrowding on the platforms and trains, failures in equipment designed to assist disabled passengers, inadequate staff to assist train usage and inadequate alternative provision being made for their travel.
If driver-only operated (DOO) trains become the norm on the network, the ABC says this could mean "a permanent breach of the Equality Act in cases where unstaffed trains stop at unstaffed platforms, particularly in rural areas across the South".
Lawyers have requested a response by 11 November; if the DfT doesn't address these concerns "by way of a full response", the group will go ahead and issue an application for permission to bring a judicial review.
ABC co-founder Emily Yates told City A.M. there had been "no response yet from Govia or DfT on this issue".
A Govia spokesman told City A.M. that the letter was a matter for the DfT, so the company wouldn't be commenting.
A DfT spokesperson said: "We have responded to correspondence from lawyers acting on behalf of the Association of British Commuters."
The ABC successfully crowdfunded £26,290 pledged by 1,331 people to push ahead with a judicial review and the group said it would launch a second crowdfunder to take it "all the way through the court proceedings".