16 May 2014
In the early hours of 9 December 2012, two police offices on uniformed mobile traffic patrol were told that a black Vauxhall Meriva was a ‘vehicle of interest’. The officers spotted the car and pursued it north along the A74, intending to stop it. This was to be a routine traffic check, in accordance with section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
The first officer, on speaking to the driver through the window, noticed a ‘strong smell of cannabis’. He suspected there might be drugs in the car. The second officer concurred. As there were 5 people in the car, they called for backup. Next they detained the occupants and searched the car, in keeping with section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act Act. The appellants were subsequently indicted on charges of supplying cannabis, cocaine and heroin.
Although concerns were raised other whether the officers had reasonable grounds to suspect that the appellants were in possession of illegal drugs, the sheriff was satisfied that the officers stopped the car in accordance with the Road Traffic Act 1988 and that their further suspicions were indeed reasonable.
The sheriff granted the appellants leave to appeal while their trial was still ongoing. The first appelant’s appeal was very insubstantial and contained nothing that might be considered grounds for appeal. The second claimed the sheriff was mistaken in thinking that the officers had reasonable grounds for suspicion, although there was nothing to suggest what the sheriff’s error might be.
The appeals court expressed its surprise that ‘leave to appeal was granted in a case which involved a simple assessment of the credibility and reliability of police officers’. It further concluded that it was up to the sheriff and the court of first instance to judge whether the officers’ suspicions were reasonable. The appeals were refused.