Glasgow Sheriff Court has a very 21st century (or at least 20th Century) method of dealing with court actions under the Commercial Procedure. For disputes of a commercial nature, and if the pursuer in the action chooses to do so, there is a streamlined process designed to focus quickly on the issues in dispute and to reach a determination as quickly as possible.
This is achieved by having cases allocated to a particular Sheriff to take the dispute through all of its stages, and by having a procedural hearing (or Case Management Conference (CMC)) take place by conference call, rather than dragging lawyers from across the city or the country to the court to sit awaiting a slot in the diary.
Instead the nominated Sheriff assesses at an early stage what is in dispute in any case, and what each party is going to have to do to achieve victory. This can include the Sheriff pinning down solicitors as to the nature of a defence, or regarding witnesses to be called to court and the nature of the evidence they will give. The Sheriff can order production of expert reports and tell parties to have experts meet to clarify issues in dispute.
The use of conference calls also means that the principal solicitor can deal with the matter from his or her office, rather than having to send along a representative who might not have a full grasp of the case. It is also harder to waffle (which lawyers have occasionally been known to do) when a Sheriff is politely asking you a question down a phone line. Recently I was in court to witness a lawyer tell the Sheriff on numerous occasions that they would “come back to that point later”. Perhaps needless to say, they never did. You can’t do that on the phone!
The commercial procedure is an excellent one if you are a pursuer and less so as defender as it cuts out a lot of the routine delays which can arise in court proceedings.
Why do I mention this?
I see that our old friend, Craig Whyte, has a case calling for a Case Management Conference at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Wednesday 1st May before Sheriff Swanson. It is likely that this will be by conference call although the Scottish Court website does state:-
Most of the Case Management Conferences will be conducted by conference call facilities. Should any person wish to observe such proceedings they should let the Sheriff Clerk know. He will make the necessary arrangements.
I wonder what the maximum number of people who can take part in a conference call is!
The court action is one which, going by the case number, was raised only this year and is in the name of the Scottish Football Association v Craig Whyte. The SFA is represented by Burness Paull & Williamson. The court sheet does not say who acts for Mr Whyte.
However, as the case is proceeding to a Case Management Conference, this suggests that he has defended the action and that he has a solicitor acting for him. Presumably with a suitably large payment to account of fees having been made?
The action relates, it seems, to the £200,000 fine imposed personally on Mr Whyte last year by the SFA for his failure, inter alia, to declare his company director disqualification to the governing body.
The case has taken some time to get to court.
The Telegraph reported on 3rd June last year as follows:-
They (the SFA) are preparing to return [to court] in an attempt to force discredited Rangers owner Craig Whyte to pay the £200,000 fine handed down to him by the same independent panel on April 23, at the same time as the transfer embargo was issued.
Whyte, who was found guilty of breaking three of the SFA’s Articles of Association, was also expelled for life from holding office in Scottish football.
The venture capitalist described the fine as “a complete joke,” adding: “It makes no difference to my life whatsoever – good luck collecting the money.” Whyte had been given 30 days in which to pay the fine and that deadline passed 11 days ago.
This week, though, the SFA’s legal team will be instructed to pursue the Monaco-based venture capitalist for the money.
The Whyte issue will be raised at a board meeting before Wednesday’s AGM,” said a well-placed Hampden source.
“He hasn’t paid the fine and there will be discussions on how to proceed. Our lawyers, Burness, will be asked to send him a reminder and then a final reminder. Should he decide not to respond to those letters then, in order to reclaim that level of finance, we must consider taking a civil action against Whyte and that would be done through the Court of Session.
“We will also be seeking interest – at four per cent – on the £200,000, starting from May 23, the day the fine was due to be paid.”
It looks as if the two letters have taken a wee while!
After that statement in June 2012, the issue next was reported in the press substantively in February. Then the Scotsman said:-
The Scottish Football Association is suing former Rangers owner Craig Whyte over a £200,000 unpaid fine for bringing the game into disrepute, after ignoring requests to pay for the last ten months.
Scottish football chiefs have confirmed that a writ has been served after a string of warnings issued to the tycoon went unheeded for 10 months, and football chiefs will now go through the courts to seek payment.
The Motherwell-born businessman has previously refused to pay the fine, branding it “a joke”, and saying he would seek legal advice over what he called the SFA’s “defamatory statements”.
The SFA confirmed that the writ had been served to Mr Whyte but refused to comment further.
It is understood that the writ was served to Mr Whyte at his residence at Grantown on Spey in the Highlands last week.
The case is calling, one assumes, for its first CMC at which the lawyer for Mr Whyte would be asked to make clear what the Motherwell-born billionaire’s defence was.
Normally the jurisdiction for hearing a case is determined by the domicile of the defender, in this case at Castle Grant in the Highlands. But the location where a debt is due to be paid can found jurisdiction and one assumes that is what applies here.
Why proceed at the Sheriff Court, rather than the Court of Session?
If the SFA doubts that it will get money back from Mr Whyte, then why spend the additional sums needed to pursue him in Edinburgh when it can be done for less expense in the Sheriff Court?
And there remains one final thought.
When the fine was imposed, it was stated by the SFA that, in the event of non-payment by Mr Whyte, the football club would be liable.
The SFA has to try to get the money from him and is doing so now. If unsuccessful, would it come knocking on the door of Ibrox? After all, might that be seen as a debt due by the football club (which, as we know, continues, no matter how often ownership changes) or a “football debt” for which newco accepted liability?
Even with the departure of Mr Green and the seemingly more measured Mr Stockbridge and Mr Mather in charge, I suspect a request to pay £200,000 plus interest and expenses being the sum unpaid by Mr Whyte would not go down very well!
Posted by Paul McConville