Full case report

Flaherty v National Greyhound Racing Club Ltd

Reference [2005] EWCA Civ 1117; [2006] ISLR, SLR-8; The Times, 5 October 2005
Court Court of Appeal

Judge The President, Scott Baker LJ, Sir Peter Gibson

Date of Judgment 14 Sep 2005


Summary

Sport – Greyhound racing – trainer found in breach of rules by regulator – claim for declaration that regulator’s decision invalid – fairness – bias – interference by court – principle of non-interference


Facts

The claimant (F) was the trainer of a racing greyhound. His dog tested positive for hexamine, a proscribed substance. The stewards of the defendant (NGRC), the regulator of the sport of greyhound racing, found F in breach of the rules and fined him £400. F brought a claim in the High Court to set aside this decision. The judge declared that the stewards’ decision was reached in breach of NGRC’s implied obligation of fairness under the contract between F and NGRC and that the decision was invalid. NGRC appealed.


Issue

Whether the judge had been right to interfere with NGRC’s decision or to find that NGRC’s decision had been reached unfairly.


Held

Allowing the appeal, the Court held that NGRC had not been procedurally unfair in reaching the decision that it had and that its conclusion had been a just one, which should stand. The judge had been in error in finding apparent bias on the part of one of NGRC’s veterinary witnesses. “It is…of paramount importance that sporting bodies should be given as free a hand as possible, consistent with the fundamental requirements of fairness, to run their own disciplinary processes without interference of the courts.” (judgment, para 79)


Comment

This case stands principally as a salutary reminder of the principle established in McInnes v Onslow-Fane [1978] 1 WLR 1520 and Modahl v BAF [2002] 1 WLR 1192 that the court should not second-guess sporting disciplinary tribunals unless there is clear evidence that the tribunal acted illegally or outside its powers. The judgment also contains (at paras 68 to 76) some important “best practice” guidance which, if followed by such tribunals, would inevitably reduce the scope for complaints of bias against them.


Links

Judgment
NGRC Press Release