Leslie Deans the SPFL only have themselves to blame if the start of the new Premiership season is delayed due to the ongoing legal fight as Hearts and Partick Thistle bid to overturn their relegations.
The clubs have launched a legal case which is now due to be heard by an independent arbitration panel following a Court of Session hearing last week.
Although all parties involved have resolved to settle the matter as quickly as possible, Deans has warned there is a significant risk the proceedings will take longer than expected. The new Premiership season is due to start on the first weekend of August.
The former Hearts chairman, who is a lawyer by profession, believes the SPFL should have published two fixture lists ahead of the new Premiership campaign – one including Hearts and one including Dundee United, who are one of three clubs arguing that promotion should stand. The fixture list is due out today.
“One potential complication is that if the tribunal makes an order and somehow misdirects itself on a point of law then the case could yet be appealed back to the Court of Session,” explained Deans. “Now that’s very different to saying that any party that does not like the verdict can appeal. – they can’t.
“I am simply saying that material misapplication of the relevant legal principle by the tribunal would be grounds for it to go back to Lord Clark. If that happens then I would say the chances of the new league season starting on 1 August are non-existent.”
Hearts’ name will not feature on the original Premiership fixture list for 2020/21 after a contentious vote to curtail last season in April. The SPFL board was given the power to call the Premiership season, which duly happened the following month. It meant Celtic were confirmed as champions and Hearts were relegated after placings were decided on a points-per-game calculation.
“You could argue that the SPFL should not be publishing the fixtures on Monday,” said Deans. “That is their choice to do so – so be it. One would have thought the sensible thing to do would be to publish two fixture lists – plan A and plan B.”
According to Deans, if procedure is correctly applied by the arbitration panel – and it should be considering the three-person panel, including a chairman, are all lawyers – there is still the potential for the case to overrun.
“Legal proceedings have a habit of taking longer than sometimes people think,” said Deans. “People should remember that this case was put down for two hours on Wednesday morning. Well it lasted for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There was a total of nine hours’ debate.
“It could take a fair bit of time yet depending on number of witnesses to be called. For example, the documents the SPFL have so far failed and refused to produce, and which Lord Clark ordered should be given to Hearts and Partick Thistle, must be examined by Hearts and Thistle’s legal teams.
“Decisions then have to be made based on what they disclose. That might entail witnesses being summoned such as Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, and Dundee managing director John Nelms. There might be others.
“How long will that take? I defy anyone to tell you exactly how long it will take to deal with.
“The blunt truth is that all of this is being discussed because the SPFL failed to find a fair system – a system of ‘no harm’ at the outset.
“Here we are now in July we are arguing through a court of law and now a tribunal when England and elsewhere are playing football again.
“Let’s not hear any comments about it being Hearts and Partick Thistle’s fault. The liability rests fairly and squarely at the door of the executive management of the SPFL."