Bulls unlikely to win High Court battle, predicts law expert

Bradford Bulls'  new coach James Lowes with Marc Green and Steve Ferres.
Bradford Bulls' new coach James Lowes with Marc Green and Steve Ferres.
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A sports law expert says Bradford are unlikely to succeed in their High-Court attempt to overturn their points deduction.

The relegation-threatened Super League club have already lost an appeal against the decision of the Rugby Football League to dock them six points for going into administration earlier this year.

The club’s directors opted to fight on after receiving the findings of the independent sporting appeal panel which upheld the penalty a fortnight ago and consulting with their legal team, as well as newly-appointed head coach James Lowes.

However, Simon Boyes, who teaches at Nottingham Law School and is the author of the text book “Sports Law”, believes the High Court are unlikely to rule against a governing body.

“Bradford Bulls’ decision to challenge in the High Court the six-point Super League deduction raises key issues over the accountability of sports bodies through the courts,” Boyes said.

“While the Bulls and their fans might be hopeful that the penalty will be overturned, the reality is that courts are generally extremely reluctant to interfere in the decision-making of sports governing bodies.

“Generally, as long as a sport’s regulator acts in accordance with its own rules and regulations, then a court is unlikely to interfere, usually taking the view that the specialist body is in a much stronger position to make an appropriate decision based on its expert knowledge of the sport.

“A court might, in extreme circumstances, rule that a penalty imposed is excessive or disproportionate, but in previous cases there has always been a wide discretion afforded to the sports governing body in making that decision.

“In extreme cases the court may regard the rules as an excessive or unreasonable restraint of trade, but examples of successful claims on this basis are few and far between in English law and the restrictions involved are usually more significant than a points deduction.”

Boyes says, even if the court rules in favour of the Bulls, it is likely to order a new hearing rather than overturn the points deduction.

“One further possibility is that a decision may have been made through an unfair or faulty process and be struck down by a court,” he added.

“However, even were this to be the case, this only requires that the matter be heard again, using a lawful process, rather than striking the decision down forever.

“Ultimately, while a court will carefully scrutinise a claim of this kind which is brought before it, those with an interest in it should be aware that airing grievances before a judge is no guarantee of success.”

It is thought Bradford chairman Marc Green’s decision to resort to legal action could cost around £100,000 but he took to Twitter to defend his actions, arguing it is a matter of principle.

“To those concerned about wasting money in fight against points deduction, I thank you, however, in reality, principles cost, simple as that,” he said.

“I was always taught to fight for what I believe to be right, provided it is and in the fullness of time, this will be proven to be the case.

“The most important thing right now is for us to get behind our new coach, a Bulls legend remembering United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

It is thought the case could be heard in weeks rather than months and, in the meantime, Bradford will seek to make up the points deficit on the field, starting with Sunday’s game at Warrington, the first under Lowes.

The Bulls are currently nine points from safety with 10 games left and firm favourites, along with London Broncos, to drop into the Championship in 2015.