There is no doubt that Shetland is legally part of the UK, a judge has ruled in the process of rejecting maverick campaigner Stuart Hill’s “invalid” claim for £23 million of damages from the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In February 2010, Mr Hill served a demand for payment on RBS, stating his belief that he was due a total sum of £23,583,434.55 in damages, interest and costs relating to a credit card debt.
Judge Lord Pentland ruled in favour of RBS, stating that Mr Hill’s pleadings were “irrelevant and lacking in specification”, adding that the demand was “fundamentally null, invalid and of no legal effect”.
Mr Hill, who represented himself in the case, has claimed for years that Shetland is not legally part of the UK and has repeatedly tried to provoke the authorities into taking action against him. Lord Pentland dismissed Mr Hill’s claim that, because he was a Shetland resident, the courts had no authority over him.
The judgement rejected Mr Hill’s arguments – outlined in an “analysis” of more than 70 pages – by pointing to two legal precedents setting out that after 1468 the right of sovereignty over the islands belonged to the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of the United Kingdom.
“As to the historical background, it seems to me that it must now be regarded as settled in law that Shetland forms part of the United Kingdom and lies within the territorial jurisdiction of the Court of Session,” Lord Pentland wrote.
“The defender [Mr Hill] urged me to allow a proof at which evidence could be led from historians on the matters discussed in his Note of Argument, but I do not consider that this would be appropriate. There would be no point in having such a proof since it is clear in law that this court has jurisdiction over the defender in the present action and that his arguments to the contrary effect are misconceived.”
In 2008, Mr Hill – nicknamed “Captain Calamity” after he caused eight emergency callouts when travelling from Shetland to Essex in a 14ft boat in 2001 – set up what he describes as the sovereign state of Forvik on a 2.5-acre outcrop called Forewick Holm near Papa Stour.
In December last year, he had attempted to challenge the UK’s jurisdiction over Shetland at Lerwick Sheriff Court. But he was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and given a six-month ban for driving two vans without tax, MOT or insurance.
In his latest battle, Mr Hill had threatened to serve a winding-up order on RBS if it did not deal with his demands, as a creditor, within three weeks. Once his demand expired, Mr Hill took no action to wind up the bank, but nor did he agree to take no further action – leading RBS to raise a legal action to quash his demand.
The bank was concerned that a winding-up petition would “damage their reputation and would be likely to undermine confidence in their solvency”, resulting in “unfavourable media comment and customer concern”, Lord Pentland’s ruling stated.
Mr Hill was seeking recompense for payments, interest and charges on his credit card totalling £270,933.73 – a sum including compound interest charged at 29.5 per cent a year on payments to RBS dating back to 1996.
He claimed a further £270,933.73 in damages, but Lord Pentland said Mr Hill had failed to demonstrate why he was entitled to any damages. Lord Pentland accepted RBS’s assertion that there was no foundation to Mr Hill’s claim of the existence of “any contract or other arrangement” between them which might have justified such a demand.
Mr Hill also claimed just over £23 million in “restitution”, and a further £12,200 for fees, which appeared to comprise charges for letters sent at the rate of £200 per letter, phone calls at the rate of £400 a time and research at the rate of £100 per hour.
But Lord Pentland’s judgement stated: “The only basis set out in the demand attempting to justify why the defender is entitled to restitution from the pursuers is that this is calculated as the profits made by the pursuers with the allegedly fraudulent use of the defender’s money. No information or detail is provided by the defender in relation to any such alleged fraud.”
He continued: “The defender has, in my opinion, completely failed to set out any basis on which he can properly claim to be a creditor of the pursuers [RBS]. What he has done is to issue to the pursuers a number of demands, in the form of various documents, in which he has asserted that the pursuers are due to pay him substantial sums. But he has never been able to identify any underlying basis for his alleged entitlement to be paid these sums of money.”
Responding to the judgement yesterday, Mr Hill told The Shetland Times that the financial claim against RBS was a side issue, “something agreed between myself and the bank [where] they failed to live up to their obligations”.
The more important point, he said, was Shetland’s sovereignty. Mr Hill claimed the Lord Advocate v University of Aberdeen case referred to in Lord Pentland’s ruling was “acknowledged by many lawyers not to be sound”.
He said: “The function of the judge, as I understand it, is to listen to the arguments on both sides and then come to a decision. My arguments regarding Shetland ran to 71 pages and 140 supporting documents. The other side had just a single document, so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”