Five questions answered on four rail firms taking one government to court

Rail firms start legal action.

Four rail firms today have started legal action against the government over the cancelling of the Great Western rail franchise. We answer five questions on the current legal proceedings.

Which train companies are taking the government to court?

FirstGroup, Stagecoach, Arriva and National Express have all gone to court in a bid to claim compensation from the government.

What exactly do they want compensation for?

In January, the government cancelled the Great Western bidding process after it said it wanted to revaluate it after the collapse of the West Coast mainline a few months before.

Cancellation of the bidding process was a big blow for the train companies who would have spent about £10m on the process, hiring large teams of experts and lawyers to put together their bids.

How much could the train companies get as a pay out?

It is believed it could cost the government about £40m.

However, the BBC are reporting that a ‘stay’ period has been established  in the legal proceedings until the end of March allowing both sides to come to a compromise.

Ministers are currently compensating bidders who lost out on a defunct West Coast deal.

What are industry insiders saying?

Nigel Harris, the editor of Rail Magazine, speaking to the BBC said: "A refusal to refund may conform to the letter of the contract rules but utterly fails the 'right thing' test.

"It makes no sense to penalise innocent bidders - especially when you want and need them to re-bid."

However, lawyer Patrick Twist at Pinsent Masons told the BBC:

"By lodging papers with the High Court the bidders are keeping open their ability to pursue the Department for Transport for the costs they wasted on bidding for the cancelled Greater Western franchise procurement," he said.

"The department will strongly resist any claim and the same bidders will have the opportunity to rebid when the franchise is reprocured. So it would be surprising if this really does lead to litigation."

What is the government saying?

The government has come under increasing flak for messing up the process, which they have already spent £50m on.

Here is what Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said earlier in the year: "In keeping with the relevant invitations to tender, which made clear that bidders are responsible for their own costs, the secretary of state does not believe it would be appropriate to reimburse bidders."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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