Anti toll campaigners failed in their latest attempt to persuade Sheriff Fraser that there was no case to answer during a trial for seventy year old Angus Smith of Skye. He was found guilty of three charges of refusing to pay the tolls last year, and was fined £150.
Solicitor Advocate for Mr. Smith, Patrick Wheatley, argued that employees of Miller Civil Engineering, who employ the staff that collect the toll on the bridge, were not legally entitled to charge and collect the tolls. This argument has been used for sometime by SKAT, saying that Skye Bridge Ltd. did not have the right to allow someone else to collect the tolls on their behalf.
The trial was delayed when the procurator fiscal produced a memo of agreement between a number of parties, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, Skye Bridge Ltd. and Miller Civil Engineering. The memo said that the Secretary of State was aware of, and gave his consent to, the transfer of contracts under the operation and maintenance agreement.
SKAT were outraged saying "It is quite clear that the fiscal obviously had no intention of showing it to the public until the last minute. It was only the arrival of the solicitor advocate on the scene that gave us a chance to evaluate it. If he had produced this document two years ago, think of the time it would have saved, and the saving to the public purse - both in court time and in police budget."
Mr. Wheatley agreed with the fiscal that the Secretary of State had the right to assign the right to collect tolls, but argued that Skye Bridge Ltd. had not right to re-assign it. This was shown in the page from the Concession Agreement, which SKAT had forced the company and the Scottish Office to issue the page.
The fiscal agreed that there was no assigning of rights to Miller, but that there was no need to. He said the liability still lay with Skye Bridge Ltd, he said this was just a sub-contracting.
Sheriff Fraser agreed with the fiscal, comparing it to a contractor working on a house extension. He could sub-contract plumbing work to someone else, but at the end of the day the contractor was still liable. "Miller Civil Engineering are not assignees, they are sub-contractors - it is as plain on the nose on the end of your face.", he said.
However, Sheriff Fraser should have read the Concession Agreement. Paragraph 28 clearly states that the concessionaire - Skye Bridge Ltd. - is not allowed to assign OR sub-contract its rights without the consent of the Secretary of State and "subject to the conditions of the Act."
The New Streets And Roads Works Act 1991, gives the statutory regulations which must be followed. This includes the issuing of a public notice and creation of a Statutory Instrument - no such Instrument exists.
"This is a very bad ruling", said Robbie the Pict. "They may have got consent, but the Sheriff has blatantly ignored the Statutory Instrument and public notice." SKAT are considering an appeal to the High Court.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1997.
Most recent revision, 13 March 1998