Leeds Rugby Ltd v Harris & Bradford Bulls Holdings Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 1591 (QB);  ISLR, SLR-91
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 20 Jul 2005
Summary: Sport - Rugby Player - Transfer from League to Union team - Contract - Option to re-acquire player - certainty - consideration - restraint of trade
Instructing Solicitors: Cobbetts for L; Hill Dickinson for H; Walker Morris for BB
Iestyn Harris (H) played rugby league for Leeds (L) under a 4-year contract expiring in 2004. In 2001 he wished to transfer to rugby union to play for Cardiff (C) and Wales. Four interlocking agreements to effect this transfer gave H an option to leave C after 3 years in which event L could require him to play for them again. In 2004 H opted to leave C and signed for Bradford Bulls (BB). L sued H for breach of contract and BB for inducing breach. The defendants argued that the option in H’s contract with L was unenforceable.
Was L’s option to require H to play for it void for (1) uncertainty (2) lack of consideration (3) restraint of trade?
(1) whilst it might be difficult to calculate the remuneration due from L to H if he was re-engaged under the option clause, the term was conceptually clear and not void for uncertainty; Brown v Gould  Ch 53 applied; (2) there was consideration for H’s grant of the option to require him to re-join L; it was illegitimate to compartmentalise the contractual consideration; (3) the option was subject to the restraint of trade doctrine; L was wrong to dispute this on the footing that cl 5 merely allowed L to require H to resume his employment if he left C early; but in its overall context cl 5 was reasonable in the public interest, and the interests of both L and H.
The case presented a classic conflict between player and club. Its main interest lies in the restraint of trade findings. Did the law require this star player to be protected against a restriction accepted with professional advice? The judge saw it as a fair deal from which Harris had benefited considerably. Leeds had waived a valuable contract with 2 years to run, giving the player the chance of better pay at Cardiff (£200K pa plus bonuses) and membership of the national union team. If he was required to go back to Leeds the contract guaranteed that Harris would be no worse off than if he had stayed at Cardiff.