Arbitration verdict: Hearts and Partick relegations stand as panel sides with SPFL

Independent tribunal reveals decision after private hearing

Hearts and Partick Thistle took the SPFL to court.
Hearts and Partick Thistle took the SPFL to court.
Hearts and Partick Thistle took the SPFL to court.

A joint legal bid by Hearts and Partick Thistle to reverse their relegations has been rejected by an independent arbitration panel.

It remains to be seen if they will pursue the matter further but the verdict by the three-person tribunal is that relegations from the 2019/20 season should stand.

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There will also be no compensation for either club as the panel found in favour of the Scottish Professional Football League, plus promoted clubs Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers.

That leaves Hearts in the Championship and Thistle in League One for next season, with Stranraer also consigned to League Two. All three divisions are due to kick-off on October 17.

Both Hearts and Partick took legal action against the SPFL after more than 80 per cent of clubs voted to end the 2019/20 campaign based on average points per game.

The decision relegated them and Stranraer, but play-offs were cancelled and promotion from the pyramid below the SPFL was also stopped without any agreement.

Hearts and Thistle petitioned the Court of Session claiming relegations were unlawful and that rules were changed by the SPFL. They argued that Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers should not be promoted, either.

However, Lord Alistair Clark QC referred the matter to arbitration as per Scottish Football Association rules on football disputes. An independent panel spent several days hearing submissions from both sides before reaching its conclusion.

Part of the tribunal verdict read: “The tribunal appointed in terms of Scottish Football Association Article 99 issued its decision today.

“It unanimously held that the challenges to the Written Resolution of 15 April 2020 failed, and that the SPFL were entitled to pass, and give effect to, the Written Resolution and all that flowed from it.

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“Accordingly it refused to grant any of the orders sought by Heart of Midlothian FC and Partick Thistle FC and continued the arbitration for submissions about expenses.”

Reacting to the news, the SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan said: “The formation of this SFA Arbitration Panel was an important step for Scottish football and one which enabled a minutely detailed examination of the entire process of ‘calling the season’.

“Directors and officials from the SPFL co-operated with the panel to the fullest possible extent, during which they were subjected to forensic examination by QCs, all under the scrutiny of a Senator of the College of Justice and two experienced Sheriffs.

“No-one should be under any illusion about the rigorous and challenging nature of this process. I would fully expect all those involved to agree that no stone was left unturned, no allegation left unanswered. Every aspect of the various arguments put forward by both Heart of Midlothian and Partick Thistle was examined minutely, with full access to all relevant documents, records, emails and telephone logs.

“The panel heard from many witnesses, including senior figures from across our game and three members of the SPFL executive team. Thousands of pages of evidence were considered.

“I’m therefore very pleased that the tribunal unanimously held that the challenges to the written resolution of 15 April 2020 failed, and that the SPFL were entitled to pass, and give effect to, the written resolution and all that flowed from it.

“Throughout the process, and whilst under the most severe pressure, criticism and media scrutiny, the SPFL has followed appropriate legal guidance and acted in accordance with the best interests of the SPFL as a whole at all times.

“It is regrettable that the league had to be concluded in the way that it was. However, despite calls to the contrary from some parties, subsequent events, including the virtual shutdown of our entire country for months, confirm that there was no viable alternative. With contact training only being allowed to resume on 29 June, it was simply impossible for games to be played or for Season 2019/20 to continue.

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“I want to make clear that it is unfortunate the early curtailment of the season relegated Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer. However, in circumstances where reconstruction was comprehensively rejected by SPFL member clubs, there was no viable alternative.

“I sympathise hugely with all three clubs, but given this clear and unequivocal tribunal decision, it is imperative that everyone accepts it and works together to ensure that our game can move forward and tackle the enormous and continuing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “This is a clear, comprehensive and unanimous decision. I am absolutely delighted that our approach has been vindicated throughout, following an intense period of legal scrutiny and review.

“It has been a very demanding process, but I had complete confidence in the actions and decisions of the SPFL board and the SPFL executive team.”

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