Mullins v Macfarlane & The Jockey Club

Reference: [2006] EWHC 986 (QB); [2006] ISLR, SLR-65; (2006) SLJR 4

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Stanley Burnton J

Date of judgment: 5 May 2006

Summary: Judicial review - horseracing - prohibited substance - morphine - disqualification from race - whether de facto threshold established requiring proof of concentration - domestic bodies answering no - claim for judicial review - scope of supervisory jurisdiction of High Court - legislative and administrative acts - retrospectivity

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Instructing Solicitors: Charles Russell LLP for the Defendant


The Claimant (M) was the trainer of Be My Royal, which finished first in the 2002 Hennessy Gold Cup. The horse tested positive for morphine. It was agreed the drug came from contaminated feed and M was not at fault but the question whether the horse should be disqualified came before the Disciplinary Committee (DC) of the Jockey Club (JC). M argued that a JC instruction issued after the race established a threshold, requiring proof that more than 50 ng/ml of the drug was present. M’s contentions were dismissed by the DC, and an appeal to the JC’s Appeal Board was dismissed. M’s application for judicial review under Part 54 was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. M then brought a claim in private law for a declaration that the horse lawfully won the race.


Whether the High Court had supervisory jurisdiction to review the decision of a domestic body where the Claimant’s right to work was not engaged. If so, whether a de facto threshold had retrospectively been established requiring proof of the concentration of the drug above the amount contended for by the Claimant. Whether the tribunal had acted arbitrarily or capriciously in reaching its decision.


(1) The court did not need to resolve the issue of jurisdiction, but its provisional view was that the court’s discretion to grant declaratory relief was not limited to circumstances in which the Claimant’s right to work was affected by the decision at issue. The importance of the challenged decision to the parties was an important factor. (2) No de facto threshold had been been established for the purposes of the Rules. There was a well-recognised difference between an administrative act that affects the detection or reporting of an infringement of a law or regulation and one that modifies the law or regulation itself. (3) It was neither arbitrary nor capricious for the Appeal Board not to have applied the higher reporting level retrospectively to the date of the race.


This is the second time the Claimant has failed to pursuade the High Court that the result of this race was unfair. Whilst the court’s preliminary view on jurisdiction would expand the circumstances in which the court might be prepared to entertain such a complaint from the established classes of cases, its ultimate decision is consistent with the reluctance of the High Court to interfere with the decision of a sporting body about the results of a competition. In coming to its view that the higher reporting level should not be applied retrospectively the court drew a distinction between the general or criminal law and the rules of sporting competitions. The court re-affirmed that it is not arbitrary to disqualify a blameless competitor found to have ingested a prohibited substance, even if the amount ingested could not have affected performance, if the rules of the game so require or permit.