McKeown v British Horseracing Authority
Reference:  EWHC 508 (QB);  ISLR, SLR-87
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Stadlen J
Date of judgment: 12 Mar 2010
Summary: Disciplinary proceedings - jurisdiction - evidence - expert evidence - bias - appeal - sports law
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Instructing Solicitors: Christopher Stewart-Moore for the Claimant; Charles Russell for the Defendant
The Appeal Board of the BHA upheld findings of a Disciplinary Panel that M, a jockey, was guilty of (1) deliberately failing on 4 occasions to ride a horse on its merits and (2) conspiring with a trainer, owner and various gamblers to commit a corrupt practice by providing them with inside information to enable them successfully to place lay bets on his rides in those and 4 other races. M sued the BHA for a declaration that these findings were unlawful, and an injunction to prevent implementation of a penalty of 4 years’ disqualification. M argued that the tribunals had erred in law, and made findings of fact which were perverse and vitiated by actual or apparent bias.
(1) Had the tribunals erred in law in aggregating separate non-probative pieces of evidence in relation to the charges of non trying?
(2) Were the tribunals’ findings that M had supplied inside information relating to horses knowing that the information would be used to place lay bets perverse?
(3) Were the decisions of the Panel and/or Appeal Board vitiated by actual or apparent bias?
None of the tribunals’ findings was perverse, but the Panel’s finding that M had supplied inside information relating to horses knowing it would be used for a corrupt practice had proceeded on an incorrect factual basis which could have affected penalty, and the Board should have remitted the matter to the Panel for a re-hearing on those discrete points.
This lengthy judgment illustrates the supervisory nature of the court’s jurisdiction to review the findings of sports disciplinary tribunals. Although the court can examine the evidence before the tribunal, and will not show “unthinkingly servile obeisance” to its decision, the court will be slow to interfere with findings of fact by a specialist tribunal. It is not necessary for a tribunal to hear expert evidence on issues where, as here, the tribunal has knowledge and experience which make it well placed to assess the evidence. Conversely, Stadlen J, a non-expert on racing matters, could not, on the basis of simply viewing the video evidence, conclude that the expert tribunals’ findings of non-trying were perverse. The claimant was himself an expert but adduced no independent expert evidence at any stage.