Hearts 'have strong legal case if they are ejected from SPFL Premiership'

Hearts could take action against the SPFL if they are relegated.Hearts could take action against the SPFL if they are relegated.
Hearts could take action against the SPFL if they are relegated. | Other 3rd Party
Edinburgh club could sue if they end up in the Championship

Hearts would stand a good chance of winning a legal case against the Scottish Professional Football League if they are relegated without this season being completed.

That's the view of the Edinburgh lawyer Les Deans, a former chairman at Tynecastle Park, who argued today that Hearts would be "ejected" from the Premiership if it ends early.

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The SPFL have the power to call a halt to Scotland's top flight after a vote was passed allowing them to end all four divisions based on average points per game.

The Premiership remains suspended for now with each club having eight matches left to play, but the Championship, League One and League Two have already been concluded.

Doing likewise with the top league would consign Hearts to relegation and leave reconstruction as their only hope of remaining in the Premiership.

The club's owner, Ann Budge, is co-chairing a task force looking at ways to expand the division from 12 teams to 14.

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If that fails, Deans believes the Edinburgh club would have a "reasonably high" chance of success were they to take the SPFL to court.

Ejection – not demotion

"I spoke to another senior lawyer who has been a member of the legal profession for 40-odd years. He shares my view, and that of the QC retained by Partick Thistle [David Thomson], that there are reasonable prospects of success," Deans told the Evening News.

"The clubs have a duty of care to each other. It's a common-law principle. For one club to be ejected from their league is a breach of that duty of care.

"Hearts are not being relegated, they're being ejected. A club can only be relegated once the league is completed. The league, as we know, has not been completed.

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"An arbitrary decision could be made to eject one club. If this were to happen, then the league could be shown to have been selective in what they did and did not do.

"For example, why eject one team when the rules for the play-off were ignored? The second-bottom team would normally play-off against a team from the division below. That is not taking place, so the rules are being applied selectively at the choosing of the league's governing body.

Reasonably high prospects’

"The chances of success, if it came to litigation and a court case for damages from the SPFL, the prospects would be reasonably high in my opinion. I hope it doesn't come to that.

"Nobody wants to see Scottish football caught up in the courts. It's not good for the image of the game. The only winners could be my own profession but, frankly, this isn't about lawyers making money. It's about what is best for football and what is best for Hearts."

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Budge stated that Hearts stand to lose between £2.5million and £3m if they end up in Scotland's second tier. Deans fears it could become more than that and sees no reason why a 14-team Premiership could not work.

‘Solution on the doorstep’

"The reconstruction is a fairly critical aspect," he said. "Ann Budge has indicated that the loss to Hearts next season if they are relegated could be £3m.

"Now, one would hope Hearts would get promotion back to the top flight, but it's not guaranteed. So the loss could be considerably more than £3m. That depends how long they spend in the Championship.

"If league reconstruction could be achieved, with three leagues of 14, no relegation and two clubs joining the Premiership, it could work. Teams could then play home and away before a seven-seven split.

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"That seems to make perfect sense to me, and it gives the broadcasters their four Celtic-Rangers games every season. That's assuming both those clubs would be in the top half and I think that is likely to be the case.

"A solution is there on the doorstep. It is perhaps very surprising that a list of options like that were not put to clubs by the SPFL when they drove through the desire to call the league early. It was unfortunate it was done in that way."

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