Robbie Risks All in Court

Robbie the Pict took his fight to the Court of Session in Edinburgh this week in the first civil action to be taken against the bridge.

At the Court of Session on Thursday and Friday, Robbie's petition was put before Lord Eassie for an Interdict to stop Miller Civil Engineering Ltd employees collecting tolls on the bridge. Seona Bird, Robbie Cormack, and Alex and Eileen Smith were also there.

There were three QCs: Michael Upton for the Pict, Gordon Reid for both Skye Bridge Ltd and Miller Civil Engineering Ltd, and Eugene Creally for the Scottish Office.

Michael Upton argued that the Secretary of State had been given the right to collect the tolls by the New Roads and Streetworks Act 1991, that he in turn had taken steps to assign his right to collect the tolls to the Skye Bridge Company, the concessionaire, as he was entitled to do, but the key issue was whether MCE has been given the right in law to collect the tolls.

Gordon Reid QC admitted that the then Secretary of State, Ian Lang, had never given express written permis1sion (as required by Statute) for Miller Civil Engineering (MCE) to collect the tolls, but he had "implied" that he had given his consent in a memorandum which refers to the associated contracts and the operation and maintenance agreement between the Skye Bridge Company and Miller/Dywidag, the consortium that built the bridge. Gordon Reid argued that the memo was central to the case. But Lord Eassie intervened to ask him if the memo amounted to written consent by the Secretary of State. Gordon Reid replied: "There is no consent in writing. The words used imply consent."

Eugene Creally QC, advocate for the Scottish Office, made it clear that if Interdict was granted, the current Secretary of State, Donald Dewar, would rectify matters. He said: "If any required consent of the Secretary of State is missing, that can be put right by the Secretary of State simply writing a letter of consent."

Gordon Reid QC said: "Written consent could be issued tomorrow." He added that, if the Interdict was granted, there would be "confusion, public inconvenience, and public safety concerns" at the bridge.

Lord Eassie will issue a written judgement at a later date (informed opinion estimates mid-January).

After the hearing, Robbie the Pict said: "It would appear that if I succeed the Scottish Office will issue a written consent to MCE, but that will mean they accept MCE had no legal authority to charge tolls. That must then give all the people who, like me, were found guilty of refusing to pay the tolls without reasonable excuse, a defence."

In the other day's Glasgow Herald, David Ross writes:

"The fact that Mr Dewar is prepared now to give legal authority to the toll collectors changes the Government's position in the debate over the bridge. Hitherto, they have argued their hands were tied by a contract entered into by their predecessors and the most they could do was to introduce significant reductions in toll charges for regular users of the bridge, which they did last year. Although the Labour Party made no more commitment in its manifesto than to examine the toll question, in its policy statement for rural areas it went further, saying it would abolish the tolls as soon as it was practicable. It was on that basis Labour candidates campaigned in the Highlands and Islands."

The petition is a big gamble by Robbie. It is being supported by public subscription, but could leave Robbie with costs estimated to be around 30,000. "Everything I have is on the line here", said Robbie.

All donations towards the petition would, obviously, be greatly appreciated! Contact SKAT if you can help.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1998.

Most recent revision, 18 December 1998