In a partisan initiative aimed at pursuing its own politically motivated agenda, EHRC said to appeal a ruling against disabled passenger Christopher Stott.
Two months after being stripped the role of complaint handler for disabled passengers, Equality and Human Rights Commission announced on Thursday it will be taking the case of Christopher Stott v Thomas Cook to the Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal dismissed the case EHRC filed against Thomas Cook involving wheelchair-bound Christopher Stott, ruling that the Montreal Convention, a framework of international rules and regulations on air travel takes precedence over British law.
In 2008, Mr Stott raised a complaint against Thomas Cook Airlines, alleging the airline had breached EC1107/2006, the law protecting the rights of disabled passengers traveling by air. The disabled passenger complained he was separated from his acting carer, his wife, and was not provided a seat adequate to his condition.
EHRC promoted legal action against Thomas Cook, seeking compensation for pain and suffering under Regulation 9.
"Neither the EC Regulation nor Regulation 9 of the UK Regulations creates a private law cause of action sounding in damages. The Appellant may invoke the administrative enforcement regime which is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority." The Honourable Mr Justice Supperstone said, dismissing a case similar to the one of Mr Stott, the case filed by EHRC for Tony Hook against British Airways.
The Civil Aviation Authority, the national enforcement body for regulation 1107/2006 did not enforce the regulation in Mr Stott case. In fact, the CAA never enforced the regulation since it first came into force in 2007.
"Although the aviation industry has taken steps to implement the Regulation in the UK, it is not always implemented, and there are instances where the service does not work well for passengers. We do have enforcement powers, but these are limited to the ability to take a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action," Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the CAA, said in April 2011. In October 2012, Sandra Webber, Director of Consumer Support at the CAA said the Civil Aviation authority is still working with Government to address the issue.
Up to March 2012, Equality and Human Rights Commission complaint handling process was often criticized for its poor service. "EHRC is the complaint handling body. We do not have the power to order any organisation to comply with the law. However, we do have the power to assist you in addressing this complaint, including offering conciliation," Mark Stone, Air Travel Accessibility, Legal Directorate at Equality and Human Rights Commission said.
In the summer of 2012, EHRC lost complaint handling for disabled passengers after it emerged it had unilaterally stopped assisting disabled passengers.
"Unfortunately, due to our funding being cut, we are no longer able to offer conciliation for cases related to EC Air Regulations 1107,"Helpline advisors at the Equality and Human Rights Commission started telling disabled passengers in March 2012.
"We understand that the EHRC has taken the view that it is unable to fund this service with effect from 1 April 2012," a Home Office spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights in March.
EHRC decision to take Christopher Stott's case to the Supreme Court begs detailed explanations. First and foremost, the criteria used by the quango to distinguish which disabled traveller deserved legal aid and which, the large majority, only received substandard advice and assistance with conciliation.
Reduced Mobility Rights has direct knowledge that complaining disabled passengers had been told EHRC would not pursue their case in court.
Also, specific to MR Stott case, EHRC must justify its determination of pursuing compensation on behalf of disabled passengers in light of a breach of the law while no attempt has been made to ensure separate enforcement of the law by the CAA.
Finally, Equality and Human Rights Commission must explain the timing of its decision to pursue Mr Stott case.
It is our opinion EHRC resolve to spend tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer money to follow one particular case, while the vital issue of lack of enforceability of EC1107/2006 is ignored, only serves a politically motivated agenda.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert of PRM regulations and handling procedures, and has personal experience as travelling companion and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of ESAAG. Chaired by the Hon. David Blunkett MP, the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group, ESAAG, provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance. Easyjet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom by number of passengers carried.