Authority at Heart of Tolls Appeal

by David Ross, Highland Correspondent

Robbie the Pict told the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday that in the four years since the Skye bridge opened, the people collecting tolls had never been able to show proper authority. That was why 600 people had challenged the toll regime, with 324 receiving citations and 124 being convicted of a criminal offence.

"I have been charged 129 times with refusing to pay the tolls on the Skye bridge, but I have never refused to pay once. All I have ever done is to ask to see the authority of those collecting the tolls," he said.

"In short form, in all these cases the accused have been confronted with unmarked men in unmarked huts wanting large sums of money to permit them to proceed on a sole access national trunk road. Small wonder questions were asked by 600 people."

Robbie is one of four campaigners now appealing against conviction. Yesterday he outlined for Lords Sutherland, Marnoch and Cowie the form his appeal would take. He said the campaigners' motive had been misrepresented: "We are making a legal challenge not a political one."

He said Parliament had given the right to collect tolls to the Secretary of State and only he, or whoever he had properly assigned this right to, could legally collect tolls.

"The complaint alleges that I was liable to pay over the toll. It does not say to whom I was to pay it over to and the normal presumption must be 'to the state'. This could of course be directly, if we had national road-tolling in Scotland, as in France, or indirectly to an authorised annex of the state, such as the Forth Road Bridge or the Tay or Erskine Boards."

The tolls on the Skye bridge were different, he contended. "Therefore, if I am liable to pay to someone else, that person must be in possession of written authorisation by the Secretary of State to exercise the entitled rights to charge and to collect, properly making them a concessionaire."

The Scottish Office has always insisted that the Secretary of State had properly assigned his right to collect tolls to Skye Bridge Ltd, which had in turn properly authorised Miller Civil Engineering (MCE) to collect the tolls.

Earlier advocate Margaret Scott, for local councillor Drew Millar and retired civil engineer Alex Smith; and advocate Neil MacKenzie, appearing for art teacher Andrew McMorrine, had both argued that the toll collectors, employees of MCE, did not have the necessary written legal consent of the Secretary of State.

Mr MacKenzie had earlier argued that the statutory instruments at the legal heart of the whole Skye bridge project had not been laid before Parliament. Neither had they been classified, printed or published in the required manner.

 The hearing continues

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 05 December 1999