by David Ross
Mr Charles Kennedy, MP for Ross, Cromarty, and Skye, is seeking an explanation why the Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, appears to have completely misrepresented the stance taken by a Skye Bridge protester in the appeal court three months ago.
Robbie the Pict had written to Mr Kennedy in December after Lord Sutherland rejected his appeal against conviction for refusing to pay the tolls on the Skye Bridge without reasonable excuse.
A central plank to Robbie's case had been that the assignation statement, the document which was supposed to authorise the assigning to a third party of the rights Parliament had given the Secretary of State to charge and to collect tolls on the bridge, was undated, unsigned and therefore worthless.
In his judgment, Lord Sutherland acknowledges Robbie presented this argument, but makes no further comment on the status of an unsigned, undated document. Robbie had also argued that the assignation statement had not been properly published as demanded by the regulations.
Mr Kennedy wrote to Lord Hardie seeking clarification on December 23. Lord Hardie responded to Mr Kennedy in a letter dated January 19: "His Lordship (Sutherland) held that for the Secretary of State to fulfil his statutory duty the assignation statement required to be made available for inspection at the same time as the draft toll order. It was accepted by Robbie the Pict... that this had happened. The court also heard that the assignation statement was in proper form. Accordingly, his argument that the assignation statement was invalid and that the prosecution proceeded on a fundamental nullity was rejected by the court."
Mr Kennedy has now expressed surprise at the Lord Advocate's assessment of the ruling which was at odds with reports he had received from Robbie and three other constituents.
"My constituent Robbie the Pict sees it as a misrepresentation of his position to say that he agreed that the assignation statement was made available for inspection at the same time as the draft toll order. In his opinion, the court did not accept the assignation statement."
"In addition, far from accepting that the assignation statement was in proper form, he complains Lord Sutherland failed to address the questions regarding lack of date, lack of signature, falsity of content and failure to publish. Consequently he alleges a breach of natural justice in that his appeal points were simply not addressed but his appeal rejected."
Robbie has also written to Lord Hardie, saying: "I consider Lord Sutherland to have completely failed to address the four appeal points which I raised concerning the assignation statement."
Robbie said last night : "I retain a certified true copy of the assignation statement which I am willing to show to anyone to prove that it is undated and unsigned."
He believes a judge's refusal to respond to specific appeal points could represent a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights and that he would consider pursuing the matter once the Scottish courts came under the convention later this year.
The Crown Office said yesterday Lord Hardie would respond in due course.
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Most recent revision, 25 March 2000