Double jeopardy as Hearts and Partick face arbitration and SFA charges

Timing of new case infuriates relegated clubs

Hearts owner Ann Budge is 'incredulous'. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Hearts and Partick Thistle say they are “incredulous” that the Scottish FA has issued them a notice of complaint over their decision to take the SPFL to court and have appealed for more time to argue their case.

The clubs responded swiftly and strongly to the charge, which could ultimately lead to their temporary suspension or expulsion from the leagues and/or a fine of up to £500,000.

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They are particularly annoyed by the timing of the complaint, issued shortly before arbitration in the clubs’ ongoing relegation dispute with the SPFL.

Hearts and Partick, along with Stranraer, Kelty Hearts and Brora Rangers, were the casualties of the SPFL members’ vote to bring the season to a premature conclusion.

It was the decision to take their case against relegation to the Court of Session which triggered the SFA action against the clubs.

Hearts and Partick, who maintain that enforcing relegation on them without the completion of a full calendar of fixtures is unjust, were served with a Notice of Complaint alleging they have breached disciplinary rule 78, which states that “no member or associated person shall take a dispute which is referable to arbitration in terms of Article 99 to a court of law except as expressly permitted by the terms of Article 99.”

The hearing date has been set for 6 August but club submissions must be lodged more than two weeks earlier.

That time pressure has exacerbated the clubs’ frustration, as they proceed with their battle to overturn their relegations.

Following the Court of Session hearing, Lord Clark decreed that the rules of Scottish football’s governing bodies meant their case must be heard by an independent tribunal. Pencilled in for this week, that arbitration hearing, involving three legal experts, will be set up by the SFA, although the association will not adjudicate in the case.

The clubs have not been given a firm start date but the case is imminent, leaving the Gorgie and Firhill outfits fighting on two fronts.

A statement issued on behalf of both clubs read: “We are incredulous to have received a Notice of Complaint from the SFA in the circumstances.

“It is oppressive of them to require submissions from both clubs by 20 July when we are, in terms of their own articles of association, actively engaged in arbitration.

“As our focus must be squarely on that, we have already requested the SFA to review the timing to allow us to be properly prepared and represented. That is the very least we should expect from the process.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SPFL members were asked to conclude the 2019/20 season in April but following Dundee’s lost vote and the early release of partial voting results which ultimately gave the Dens Park side extra sway, controversy has dogged the game.

The affected clubs decided to take their case to the court of session after attempts to push through league reconstruction aimed at preventing them having to carry the can for the disruption caused by the Covid-19 lockdown failed.

They sought a ruling that will overturn their relegation, which was decided on a points-per-game basis.

Both Hearts and Thistle had hoped that Lord Clark would wrap matters up and rule in their favour but, while he moved the matter to arbitration, he also cast doubt on the legality of any punishment from the SFA over their decision to involve the courts.

Delivering his judgment on 3 July, he said: “In my view, a further issue arises from a point made by Mr Moynihan QC on behalf of the SPFL about the disciplinary process and the potential sanctions applicable to SFA members. I was taken to the SFA’s Judicial Panel Protocol and shown a provision which applies where a member or an associated person takes a dispute, which is referable to arbitration in terms of Article 99, to a court of law, in circumstances other than those expressly provided by the terms of Article 99.

“The provision refers to penalties of up to £1,000,000 and/or suspension or termination of the club’s membership of the SFA being imposed if a court action is raised. In my opinion, the existence of that potential penalty (which includes expulsion or as Mr Moynihan put it, being put “out of the game”) is a factor which requires to be considered when analysing the lawfulness or otherwise of Article 99.15.”

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