Reference:  ISLR, SLR-39
Court: Haverfordwest County Court
Judge: Neuberger J
Date of judgment: 1 May 2002
Summary: Sports law - Amateur sport – Rules as a contract – Incorporation of terms - Breach of natural justice – Exhaustion of domestic procedures - Declaratory relief
Mr Lovell (‘L’) was a cricketer playing for a club affiliated to Pembrokeshire County Cricket Club (‘D’) in the Pembrokeshire County Cricket League. During a match in August 2001, L claims that he was verbally abused. At one point, when L was at the crease, he claimed that a rival player threw the ball at the stumps when the ball was plainly dead. This led to heated arguments at the time and subsequent formal complaints, lodged with the League, that L had sworn at rival players and the umpire and had manhandled a rival player. L was charged with misconduct. At the hearing L and each of the witnesses were only permitted to attend while they were giving evidence. Only the members of the Disciplinary Committee were permitted to ask questions. L was found guilty and debarred from playing for four months (including two months suspended). L did not pursue an appeal after being told that the same procedure would be used. He sought a declaration that the decision was null and void.
(1) Did L have a right in contract (or on some other private law basis) to enforce D’s disciplinary procedures against D?
(2) If there was a contract, were its terms as regards disciplinary procedures breached? (3) If L was successful so far, should he be refused declaratory relief? (4) Should L be refused relief due to his failure to exhaust the appeal procedures?
Dismissing the action: (1) D’s disciplinary procedures were contractually enforceable. It is undesirable to interfere in amateur sport, but where a league has detailed rules, with teeth, including disciplinary procedures, and is organised under the auspices of a rule-making body (such as D) then the rules will be legally enforceable, although the Court should be careful before granting any relief. (2) D was in breach of L’s rights. The rules provided that a player charged has a right to attend the hearing, entailing a right to attend the whole hearing. D also presented L with evidence against him on the door of the court, and denied him the right to make submissions in mitigation. (3) But for the issues relating to appeal, L would have been granted the relief sought. (4) It would be inappropriate to grant relief given L’s failure to exhaust the appeal procedures, and the fact that an order for a re-hearing would place L in a worse situation than the appeal offered by D.
The Court expressed a reluctance to “go poking its nose into amateur cricket”, but given the detail of the rules, and the sanctions they contained, held that these rules were legally enforceable. From an observer’s point of view it is difficult to ascertain what Mr Lovell thought he would gain from these proceedings: during negotiations the Defendant had offered him an appeal heard by a panel with a majority of independent members and an independent chair, meaning that, as the Judge observed, what they were offering was better than the re-hearing that the Court could offer him.