SKAT must await a written ruling from three appeal judges before learning whether non-payment of Skye Bridge tolls is a criminal offence.Yesterday, the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh deferred a decision on the Crown's appeal against a ruling by Sheriff James Fraser at Dingwall Sheriff Court earlier this year.
Sheriff Fraser found the Toll Order regulations were flawed. They did not specify who was liable to pay the toll. If that is upheld, the order would have to be redrafted and a questionmark placed against convictions of hundreds of non-payers.
Sheriff Fraser had ruled that the legislation was unclear over who was liable for the charge. Colin Boyd, QC, Solicitor-General for Scotland, said the sheriff had erred in law and asked the appeal Judges to overturn his ruling.
Mr Boyd said the point at issue before the appeal court was a short one, whether the legislation created a liability to pay the toll under the 1991 act. He argued that the obligation to pay was on traffic using the crossing. "It is the use by the vehicle, not anybody in the vehicle, passengers and so forth" he said."The liability is on the person at the toll seeking to use the crossing for the vehicle. In my submission, if a person appears at a toll barrier driving a vehicle, then it must follow that is the person liable to pay the toll. To suggest otherwise strains at the purpose of the act."
Mr Boyd acknowledged he was departing from the Crown's argument at Dingwall Sheriff Court that driver and passengers might have a joint liability to pay the toll. Kevin Drummond, QC, for the defense, claimed that placed the Crown in difficulty. "What is to position if a passenger stuck his head out of the window and offered to pay?" he asked. "Or what is the position of four people pushing a vehicle across the bridge?"
Members of SKAT, with bagpipes skirling, marched on Parliament House in Edinburgh's Royal Mile to hear the appeal.
Copyright © Ray Shields, 1997.
Most recent revision, 8 August 1997.