Information Commissioner v Fat Controller

This week was a week of altogether too much train travel and Friday took the biscuit. (NB : This is a bit woe is me. I feel much better now…)

Care brief (legal aid) for client who needs continuity of counsel. Distant court at out of town location. Ordered to be at court at 8.30am. No. That isn’t a typo. Travelled down the night before to make said 8.30 start, missing a fourth consecutive bedtime with the kids, aware that the Legal Aid Agency are almost certain to reject any claim for train or b&b or the taxi to court (even though it is not possible to get to on foot) and I am therefore effectively working for free. Long train journey, with mahusive suitcase. No room for mahusive suitcase in rack, but safely stowed out of aisle in (empty) designated wheelchair area along with others. Nice conductor assists passengers with reorganising luggage to fit all in a safe corner. Unable to work due to being seated next to octet of pink spangly Brizzle ladeez on a 40th birthday bash, drinking peach schnapps, eating cupcakes and chatting up all male train staff and passengers whilst playing tinny music via their iphone speakers. Arrive at B&B 9pm, prep, sleep, up at the crack. Taxi to court for 8.30am as per order. Others arrive (predictably) after 9.00am.

Friday lunchtime – long train journey back. No room for mahusive suitcase in rack, but safely stowed out of aisle in (empty) designated wheelchair area, beneath unused table. Am ousted from seat next to my luggage by person with booked seat. I move to the seat opposite where an exceptionally long legged girl with bad dance music emanating from poor quality headphones permits me to use a generous half of the seat beside her, taking up only half of said seat with her handbag. She doesn’t seem to mind when I sit on it though, so it’s all good.

Until the conductor man arrives and gets all legalistic on me. Demands I move my suitcase from it’s entirely safe and unobstructive position to the other end of the carriage where I will not be able to see it. Reasoning with him (albeit in a slightly tetchy tone) does not elicit any flexibility. Because “there is a sign” and “I’ve announced it” so “it’s a legal requirement”. Observing wearily that it did not seem to be a legal requirement on the way down does not produce results. Explaining that I cannot leave my bag unaccompanied produces only “it’s a legal requirement, I refer you to the notice.”. Oh yes. The one I can read because it ISN’T obstructed by a wheelchair. “What if” he says triumphantly “A wheelchair user got on? Then you’d slow down the train.” But there isn’t! And OF COURSE I’D BLOODY MOVE MY SUITCASE FOR A WHEELCHAIR USER!! And…did I mention that there ISN’T A WHEELCHAIR USER??

And I – realising that my stack is about to blow, irritated by legal stuff thrown at me which is probably rot but which I am unfamiliar with – refrain from explaining in full that I cannot leave my suitcase at the other end of the carriage because I am a barrister and it is full of not only the detritus of a week away, but also of files and files of papers about the parents’ mental health and criminal history, and details of several very vulnerable children. That I *cannot* lose (for both the sake of the client and her family and for reasons of self-preservation). That this is information that the Information Commissioner will fine me tens of thousands of pounds for if I were to lose it by being so careless as to comply with something so flimsy as a “legal requirement” from a train conductor. I resist explaining all this partly so as to avoid becoming that self important twonk whose presence is obligatory in every train carriage. And partly because this is not a battle that can be won by “my law is ‘arder than your law”. And partly because, whilst conducting this rather unsatisfactory “debate” I have in fact been attempting unsuccessfully to fit my suitcase in the undersized, inefficiently stacked luggage compartment next to my seat – preferring to be righteously cooperative than brazenly non-compliant. I am finding the multi-tasking tricky.

Just as I reach the point where one corner of my mahusive suitcase is teetering on the top of the suitcase mountain with its full weight on one shoulder, and just as it is threatening to slide back off and pin me to the floor of the carriage the train conductor turns tail and leaves me to it, mid teeter. I have to be rescued by a suitcase samaritan (thank you). We realise this mountain must be re-stacked to get my suitcase in. I am then told off loudly, in sequence, by three separate women for variously touching or moving their bags. First lady…Yes, I’m trying not to crush your bag by putting my suitcase on top of it. I’m just putting it here whilst I make room for mine. You want to be able to SEE your bag from your seat? OK, well have you considered putting it in the overhead shelf RIGHT ABOVE YOU? The ENTIRELY EMPTY ONE? Second lady…. Yes, as I said before I’m trying not to crush your bag either so I need to move it to re-stack. Lady number three is my neighbour with the legs. “Can you not touch my bag please?” After I observed loudly that she seemed to be quite happy for me to be sitting on her handbag on account of her not moving it off my seat she shut up and me and my samaritan finished re-stacking the suitcases and I sat down. The handbag was gone.

Deep breath. What just happened??? I think I need a peach schnapps.

I regularly have my suitcase moved less than delicately or blocked in by other passengers on the train. It’s annoying but I don’t do more than humph on discovering it as I’m trying to make my exit. I’ve never encountered this sort of vocal bag preciousness before. I think that my insistence on needing to be with my suitcase prompted a sort of crowd-think reaction – “my bag’s as important as yours”. Just as well I didn’t do the whole “I have sensitive data in my bag” thing… God knows what might have kicked off!

But the point to this rant is this:

Sometimes we have to travel by train to get to clients. Sometimes it’s too far or we’re just to dog tired to safely drive. Whether it’s car or train or bus we take great care with our papers – damn it I even take them in the station toilet cubicle with me – but this will cut no ice in the unfortunate event of a loss or theft. The Information Commissioner has been absolutely clear – any data loss is basically our loss and it will cost us. More than we can hope to sustain. Career ending amounts of money. So busy trains are a nightmare. Sometimes it is impossible to keep the luggage rack in line of sight, sometimes you nod off on the journey. Sometimes you spend the whole journey anxiously craning your neck to watch the rack every time the train “platforms” (whilst resisting the urge to shout “Platform is not a verb!”). Sometimes you come up against a “legal requirement”.

In trying not to be a conspicuous legal-twonk I did not attempt mid-carriage, mid-argument to look up the railway byelaws. I’m a lawyer to the core but I’m not the sort who loves a confrontation for the heck of it. However twitter did look it up for me (h/t @unity_mot). I am now armed with the knowledge that Rule 12 of the Railway Byelaws provides as follows :

12. Safety instructions

  1. An Operator may issue reasonable instructions relating to safety on any part of the railway by means of a notice on or near that part of the railway. No person shall, without good cause, disobey such notice.
  2. An authorised person may, in an emergency or in other circumstances in which he believes he should act in the interests of safety, issue instructions to any person on the railway. No person shall, without good cause, disobey such instructions.
  3. No offence is committed under these Byelaws where a person acts in accordance with the notices or instructions given under Byelaw 12(1) or 12(2).

A further rummage in the byelaws produces this, which I think is what my conductor was referring to:

19. Classes of accommodation, reserved seats and sleeping berths

Except with permission from an authorised person, no person shall remain in any seat, berth or any part of a train where a notice indicates that it is reserved for a specified ticket holder or holders of tickets of a specific class, except the holder of a valid ticket entitling him to be in that particular place.

Except of course 19 isn’t applicable because there was no person in the designated area, only a suitcase. So I’d say the question is rather whether it was a reasonable instruction and whether I had good cause to disobey. I’d say “No” and “Yes” respectively (but then I’m a child lawyer not a transport lawyer).

I plan to print out and tape these regulations to the inside of my trolley to be wheeled out next time I am confronted by a legal requirement that is incompatible with my fear of the Information Commissioner.

I shall do so in the almost certain knowledge that although I am now equipped to argue the toss I will probably simply grumble and then capitulate in a desperate attempt to avoid looking like the cleverdick fatcat lawyer who thinks the rules don’t apply to her. And to avoid getting kicked off the train…


10 thoughts on “Information Commissioner v Fat Controller

  1. By your logic you can sit in First Class provided nobody with a First Class ticket is trying to occupy the seat. Why don’t you try that and see where it gets you?
    Many people carry around documents they can’t afford to lose, ask any business person if the documents they carry are company confidential and you’ll find they have a legal duty to avoid their loss too. Usually they manage to cram an awful lot more documents in a much smaller space than your suitcase. It’s called electronic media. You should try it, IT might transform law and drag it out of the 19th century one day.

    • No that isn’t my logic at all. Bags not bums. Anyway…
      I’m not suggesting I’m the only one with this problem. And if I had the option of electronic documents I would use it. Unfortunately the Family Justice System doesn’t work that way. Although we get lots of docs scanned electronically this is not consistently so and having half of a bundle in paper and half electronically is utterly unworkable. So we are consigned to lugging around the paper bundles. We don’t do it by choice!

  2. Much sympathy, we’ve all been there. But I recommend telling the Handbagger: You will have to move that, I am going to sit down.

    • Yes, I usually would. But I was desperate to just sit down and click my heels and be home. I wasn’t really looking for confrontation…

  3. “Would your bag mind if I sit down there?” SMILE brightly

    I once had a suitcase of files stolen from the 1st class* luggage compartment, luckily on the final day of the hearing. It and the files were later found on a rubbish dump miles away from the railway line. The train conductor said that people get on at stations, whip through the carriages picking up what they can and get off again before the train leaves the station. After that, when I had a similar problem to yours I’ve said to the conductor “that case contains confidential business information and I’ve had one stolen in the past from a train. Can you confirm that it won’t be stolen and that you will take responsibility on behalf of the rail company if it is?”. Probably wouldn’t work now but a variation on the theme may be worth constructing?

    Commiserations to you and to your family. The present system isn’t sustainable and I wonder for how much longer practitioners will consent to propping it up for free.

    *years ago, it was in a court many, many miles away, a last minute brief and I desperately needed the time and space to prep on the train

  4. I would not worry too much about the ICO.
    My local court has the equivalent of a washing machine, however instead of losing socks they lose a percentage of anything posted or handed in at the counter. I know someone who twice gave in a copy of their marriage certificate,allegedly it did not arrive in the office . They got both certificates posted back months later with someone else’s application form.
    I have noticed though that the” machine ” is fond of eating particularly important documents.
    Seriously I could not get the ICO to take any action when a data request months out of compliance. When the local authority did reply I was sent the education records of the wrong children. I did not peek and sent them back. I think it is probably like most Government departments so pared down it is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Their answer was you can go to judicial review, conveniently the Government have also made legal aid near impossible to get.
    With regards to your working hours, I remember thinking that my solicitor’s children could be more at risk of emotional harm as she never seemed to stop working, even when on holiday. From my point of view the court system still seems to be rather misogynistic. Do any of you( female) ever dare to wear trousers?

    • I rarely wear trousers these days, but only because I’ve got so fed up with having to alter every pair I buy on account of my unfeasibly short legs!

  5. A very entertaining read. I enjoyed it. I look forward to you taking your next train trip even if you don’t.

  6. I would blame the trousers. I at the start of my adult life had to buy a long fit I now have to buy short. I don’t think I have shrunk that much.
    Plus over the course of the last year my foot size has changed up, perhaps they grow at night. Actually perhaps I am just changing into a clown.

    Thank you all you out there in family blog land. It is really helpful when you are down in a pit for someone to be kind enough to provide a ladder.

    As well as it has opened up new avenues of entertainment I would not have possibly considered before. For Instance the Parliamentary Committee considering the legal aid cuts was fascinating . I wanted to know what the lady at the back was rummaging about for in her handbag, was there a noose hanging on the wall and if so can you hang people under Parliamentary privilege. Who was the man was the man in the beige mack and why did he come in so late?

  7. I feel your pain, literally – having just been manhandled back into shape following a trolley related back/hip problem. Every day with the trolley – I’m 5’1″ and not designed to lug all that stuff around!

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