Government Accused Of Breaching European Law
Skye Bridge protesters say that the Government may be in breach of European Law by rushing through changes to the Act under which nearly 200 of its members have already been prosecuted. SKAT says it is appalled that hundreds of its members, who have suffered needlessly because of the intermediate diet process, will be prevented from appealing against their convictions as a result of these changes..
Intermediate Diets are held in Sheriff or District Courts after an accused person pleads not guilty, but before the actual trial, to see if the defence and prosecution can agree on any evidence to save court time. While provision was made in the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act for Intermediate Diets there was none for a second such trial. Recently several trials have been quashed because second Intermediate Diets had been wrongfully arranged. This came to light when Lord Cullen ruled in the Appeal Court that a couple of criminal convictions should be quashed because individuals involved had, wrongly, been required to attend two Intermediate Diets. However, almost 200 members of SKAT came to full trail after having been required to attend two Intermediate Diets but because the Government is rushing through retrospective legislation to close this loophole the possibility of appealing against convictions is effectively removed.
SKAT convener, Drew Millar, uncharacteristically, has some sympathy with the Government over the issue but still feels aggrieved about the way Intermediate Diet has been used against his membership over the past two years. "Clearly no one would want to see actual criminals getting off scot-free because of this loophole but in our case things were substantially different. After all we are a campaign of civil disobedience which challenges bad legislation which purportedly empowers the Bank of America to levy tolls on the only fixed crossing to the Isle of Skye. Furthermore, the Intermediate Diet was used vindictively by the Sheriff Court in Dingwall to try to grind campaign members down. Multiple round trips of more that 250 miles were required of SKAT members by the court and as was intended these caused great inconvenience and expense. Now, we hear they had no right to put us all through that but despite this the Government are now ensuring that they get away scot-free with this abuse. If I were a cynical person I would argue that justice is about the last thing that this system provides for ordinary people."
Mr. Millar, who is also Highland Councillor for Portree says that SKAT is taking advice on whether in the course of papering over the cracks in interpretation of the Criminal Procedures Act, European Legislation has been contravened. "With every day that passes," he said, "we make progress towards the ultimate removal of the tolls from the Skye Bridge, and we wont let any tinkering with the law stand in our way".
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1998.
Most recent revision, 25 April 1998