SKAT Demand Action Over Unsafe Convictions

In light of recent revelations which casts considerable doubt on whether the Government followed proper procedures in framing the legislation which allows for the collection of tolls on the Skye Bridge, SKAT are calling on the Secretary of State to review the cases of people convicted for their refusal to pay tolls. The assertion by the anti-tolls campaigners that the Toll Bridge legislation is flawed has been examined by eminent Scots Law expert, Professor Robert Black, and his advice is that the campaign "have a very good argument in law". Further revelations suggest that Crown productions purporting to establish the right to collect tolls were incomplete, having been stripped of pages which would have made the flaws in legislation more conspicuous and prevented a successful criminal prosecution.

SKAT Convener and Highland Councillor, Drew Millar, is adamant that convictions for refusal to pay tolls should be re-examined. "After all SKAT members were convicted of criminal charges and they are only sustainable if they can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It seems that the Scottish Office have denied a legitimate defence to protesters by tampering with these documents and Donald Dewar should intervene to clear up this legal mess."

Mr. Millar said also that the ball must now be in Mr. Dewar’s court since trials of those who have allegedly refused to pay tolls have been suspended and there seems to be an extreme reluctance on the part of the courts to hear the appeals of those already convicted. "They are not giving us a chance to argue these points in the court. Some appeals have been outstanding for nearly 18 months; the Crown Office’s has, in the past couple of days, refused to discuss the law in a public forum with one of our members; and the Scottish office has clammed up on the issue. Can we infer from their silence that they do not wish to address the many arguments SKAT has advanced as proof that the whole legal basis of the tolls has been badly botched."

Professor Black - the man whose work has lead to the breakthrough in bringing the Libyans suspected of causing the Lockerbie bombing - says he feels the latest revelations about legislation which introduced tolls could prove the argument that quashes convictions for non-payment.

When the Toll Order - a piece of government legislation called a Statutory Instrument (S.I.) that gives Skye Bridge Ltd legal powers to collect tolls - was made it had to be classified as either a 'local non-print' or 'general print'. The decision on whether a Statutory Instrument is one or the other depends on its subject matter.

The 1947 S.I. Regulations say that 'an instrument is classified as 'local' if it is in the nature of a local and personal or private Act and 'general' if it is in the nature of a public general Act.' A 'general print' has to be laid before Parliament and has to be published for sale to the public through Her Majesty's Stationary Office.

This did not happen with the Toll Order but when protestors tried to defend themselves against charges of non-payment in Dingwall Sheriff Court last year by saying the legislation had not been properly published, the Crown argues that because the S.I. had appeared on the Registration List it had been issued.

Sheriff Fraser agreed with the Crown despite stating that he didn't know or see the difference between listed as registered and published.

At this point, protestors were labouring under the mis-conception that the Toll Order was a 'general print' because the copy of the order they were given by the Crown for their defence made no mention of it being anything else. It was only after Robbie the Pict went to HMSO and bought a copy of the S.I. that he discovered that the Crown had missed off the vital last page which reveals that it is in fact a 'local non-print' and he believes that whoever authorised the removal of the page is conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

The Statutory Instruments Act says that in any proceedings against a person for an offence where an S.I. is contravened it is a defence to prove that the instrument had not been issued by HMSO at the date of the alleged contravention.

What makes the 'local non-print' classification more baffling is the amendment to the toll order, which Donald Dewar set in motion after Labour came into power to reduce, but not abolish, the tolls, was properly issued as a 'general print' and laid before parliament. It is on sale from HMSO for 65p.

Commenting, Professor Black said "I think Robbie has really got something here, particularly because the amendment was done in the approved form whereas the original order was done in this fly-by-night manner. The Government themselves may have realised there was something wrong with the original toll order and adopted a different procedure for the amendment."

 


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Copyright Ray Shields, 1998.

Most recent revision, 16 September 1998