Transport Secretary ordered by judge to produce report on Southern
Passengers using the company’s services have faced a year of disruption.
The Transport Secretary has been given two weeks to produce a report on Southern Railway or face a judicial review on his handling of the franchise.
The High Court made the ruling after hearing an application by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) for a judicial review into the way Chris Grayling has dealt with Southern.
The operator has been hit by a year of disruption because of industrial action taken by unions over driver-only controlled trains, staff shortages and other problems.
Mr Justice Ouseley said he is requiring the minister to publish a report within 14 days.
The judge was told by James Hodivala, for the ABC group, there had been an unreasonable delay in the Government deciding whether the disruption was caused by so-called force majeure, and so was outside Southern’s control.
The Transport Secretary has taken 14 months to make a decision, which amounts to an “unreasonable” delay and is at the heart of whether he had complied with his public law duty, the judge was told.
Mr Hodivala also claimed there had been a “lack of transparency” over the benchmarks Southern had to achieve under its contract.
The move came as Southern drivers started a ban on overtime which will lead to the cancellation of hundreds of services, causing fresh misery for the company’s 300,000 passengers.
Clive Sheldon, for the Transport Secretary, told the court Mr Grayling is “fully aware” of the inconvenience suffered by Southern’s passengers.
A decision on the force majeure issue is “imminent”, which would be followed by the question of whether any enforcement action needs to be taken.
“The question of remedy will be a later decision, but not a significantly later decision,” he said.
The process of deciding if the disruption was outside Southern’s control had been “complex and difficult” but a decision is about to be made, the judge was told.
Mr Sheldon suggested it was acceptable to give an order that Mr Grayling will produce a report on the issue within 14 days.
The judge rejected the commuter group’s argument that the Government was in breach of equality legislation because of problems with access suffered by disabled passengers.
He ordered that the ABC should pay two-thirds of the Transport Secretary’s £25,900 legal costs.
Emily Yates, co-founder of the ABC, said outside court: “We have already had a precedent set when the judge agreed you should not wait until kingdom come for a decision to be made.
“We are disappointed he did not accept our case about disability access, but we regard today as a victory – and our campaign will continue.”
The two-and-a-half-hour hearing was held as Southern drivers started an overtime ban which led to the cancellation of hundreds of services.