Late on Monday evening the outcome of the SFA Judicial Panel hearing into allegations against Craig Whyte and Rangers was made public. It is fair to say that the sentences passed, if not the verdicts, were surprising. The immediate response from the administrators of Rangers was to condemn the “draconian sanctions”. On the other hand, commentators and fans of teams other than Rangers expressed surprise at the severity of the penalties. There had been a widespread view that a rap on the knuckles would be delivered. However, what landed on Rangers was the equivalent of a Joe Frazier hook to the head.
I wrote in March about the charges, and predicted that Rangers and Mr Whyte would have no case to answer. I missed the target just a bit, as you will see.
The Rules of the Judicial Panel, under which the matter was dealt, can be read here.
All charges against Rangers and Mr Whyte covered the period from 6th May 2011 to 6th March 2012. In this post I will write about Mr Whyte, and about Rangers in the next one.
Craig Whyte – Charges, Verdict & Sentences
Rule 66 – No recognised football body, club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, referee, or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall bring the game into disrepute.
The Tribunal found Craig Whyte guilty under Rule 66 and fined him £50,000.
Rule 71 – A recognised football body, club, official, Team Official, other member of Team Staff, player or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall, at all times, act in the best interests of Association Football and shall not act in any manner which is improper.
The Tribunal returned a Not Proven verdict in respect of Rule 71.
Rule 105 – Any Party who is subject to a Direction from a Tribunal must follow that Direction as so Directed by the Tribunal. Any Party who fails to do so, may be found to be in breach of this rule.
The Tribunal found Craig Whyte guilty on three separate counts under Rule 105 and fined him £50,000 in respect of each breach.
The decision as regards Mr Whyte ends:-
The above sanctions shall be paid within 30 days, with interest of 4% per annum over the base lending rate of Bank of Scotland plc from the date of determination until paid.
Under Articles 94.1 and 95, the Tribunal expelled Craig Whyte for life from any participation in Association Football in Scotland.
The two articles referred to are shown below:-
Article 94.1: The Judicial Panel shall have the power to fine, suspend, or expel or in relevant cases to eject from the Challenge Cup Competition or apply such other sanction as is provided for in the Judicial Panel Protocol any recognised football body, club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, referee or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA who, in its opinion, in any way brings the game in to disrepute or is likely to bring the game into disrepute or on any other grounds it considers sufficient and of which, subject to the rights of appeal, it shall be the sole judge.
Article 95: The Judicial Panel shall have jurisdiction subject to the terms of the Judicial Panel Protocol to deal with any alleged infringement of any provision of these Articles. A recognised football body, club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, referee or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA if found to have infringed the Articles shall be liable to censure or to a fine or to a suspension or to an expulsion or to ejection from the Challenge Cup competition, to any combination of these penalties, or such other penalty, condition or sanction as the Judicial Panel considers appropriate, including such other sanctions as are contained within the Judicial Panel Protocol in order to deal justly with the case in question.
What Does That Mean?
Mr Whyte has been found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and of breaching three separate Directions of the Disciplinary Tribunal. The charge of behaving improperly was not proven.
Under Rule 10.5 the Tribunal can make “Directions” as to procedures which the participants must follow, on pain, under Rule 10.5.3, of the Tribunal finding there has been a breach. In that event the Tribunal can penalise the participant for the Breach.
Therefore, Mr Whyte has been fined a total of £200,000, being £50,000 for the disrepute charge, and £50,000 for each of the failures to comply with directions.
He has also received a lifetime expulsion from Scottish football.
The terms of the rule regarding this changed when the disciplinary rules were revised last year.
Now the rule applies to an “official” which is defined in Article 1.1 of the SFA’s Articles of Association as “any person having a function or duty or position involving authority or trust within a club … including any such person who is able to exercise control over the majority of the board of any such club (whether or not that person is himself intimated to the Registrar of Companies as holding the office of a director)”.
From that I take it that Mr Whyte can be prevented from being the director of a football club, but also that he can be prevented from being majority owner. There would, I am sure, be some interesting legal challenges about the fact that Rangers FC Group Ltd owns 85% of Rangers, but Mr Whyte made it clear that he was in charge and that he was the owner.
The Judicial Panel Protocol states at page 114 that the maximum penalty for failure to follow a Direction is a £50,000 fine and suspension until compliance is achieved. That allows, as has happened here, a £50,000 fine for each offence.
The penalties are classified into Low End, Mid Range and Top End, with Maximum above that.
Mr Whyte’s failure to follow Directions is therefore seen by the Tribunal as deserving of the maximum penalty. However, it is not that failure which has led to his expulsion. That comes from the disrepute charge.
I commented in my piece linked to above that the problem with this charge is that which dogged the criminal charge of “breach of the peace”. People generally knew what it meant, but an exact definition could prove beyond even the wisest.
Case law from the European Court of Human Rights led to changes in the law regarding breach of the peace and it was effectively replaced by a more clearly defined statutory crime.
The same is overdue here – “disrepute” covers so many things that officials and players could legitimately argue that they had no idea what they were doing was wrong. If that is the case, it is very hard to punish fairly someone who falls foul of the charge.
The “Top End” penalty for “disrepute” for an official is listed as is a £10,000 fine. The maximum is stated to be a £50,000 fine. Page 102 of the Protocol, which carries these provisions and the penalties mentions that expulsion is one of the sanctions available, but in the chart which accompanies that text, the only class of individual stated to be at risk of expulsion is a referee found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.
It therefore seems odd that the Tribunal have imposed what is in fact more than the stated maximum penalty on Mr Whyte.
The end result is that Mr Whyte owes the SFA £200,000 and is at risk of having to step down as Chairman, even if Rangers survives, and divest himself of the shares. My reading of the new rules suggests that now the SFA can get rid of a rule-breaking owner.
Can Mr Whyte Appeal?
Yes. From when the full written reasons are provided to each party, they have three days to advise the SFA that they intend to appeal.
In view of the short timetable, I would expect Mr Whyte to lodge an appeal, even if he has no intention of going ahead.
I think that he stands excellent chances of appealing successfully.
We do not know yet of course precisely what Mr Whyte’s behaviour was which justified, in the eye of the Tribunal, a life ban.
We will see when the full reasons are produced, as I am sure they will be soon.
I will write about the appeal process in my next post.
What if Mr Whyte does not pay?
Mr Whyte’s public statement makes it clear that he has no intention of acknowledging this so-called “kangaroo” court.
However the SFA can still get the money, even if Mr Whyte refuses to pay. Article 97.2 states that if a person does not pay a fine, then the funds can be deducted at source from the money due to the club by the SFA.
Therefore, if Mr Whyte is bloody minded, he might find that the angst from Rangers fans towards him gets even worse!
Mr Whyte fined the maximum fine of £200,000 (£50,000 x 4).
Mr Whyte expelled from the sport for life.
Mr Whyte’s unpaid fine (if not appealed) will be deducted from footballing prize money due to Rangers from SFA.
More to follow!
Rangers/ Appeals etc
Posted by Paul McConville