Hearts/Partick case against SPFL is referred to SFA for arbitration

Lord Clark rules clubs are bound by association’s rules

By Barry Anderson
Friday, 3rd July 2020, 3:43 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd July 2020, 4:21 pm
Edinburgh's Court of Session heard the Hearts/Partick case against the SPFL.
Edinburgh's Court of Session heard the Hearts/Partick case against the SPFL.

The Court of Session today referred Hearts’ and Partick Thistle’s case against the Scottish Professional Football League to the Scottish Football Association for arbitration.

The SFA will now arrange an independent panel for a tribunal, which must take place quickly to avoid delaying the start of the 2020/21 Scottish football season on August 1. The SFA will not sit in judgment on the dispute, however.

Judge Lord Alistair Clark QC also ordered documents relating to the case to be released to assist the panel, something Hearts and Thistle pushed for through their initial court petition.

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Lord Clark decided that the matter should not proceed in the Court of Session after three days of submissions from legal experts.

He heard from lawyers on behalf of the Edinburgh club and their Glasgow counterparts, plus representatives of the SPFL and promoted teams Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers.

Hearts and Thistle argued that their relegations last season were unlawful following the coronavirus shutdown. The SPFL maintained that the dispute should be handled by an independent arbitrary panel and did not belong in court.

Lord Clark concluded that the matter is to be dealt with by the SFA’s arbitration process, in line with rule 99 in the SFA articles of association. It states clubs cannot take a football matter to court without permission from the SFA board.

The judge refused United, Raith and Cove’s motion to have the Hearts/Partick complaint dismissed altogether. However, he decided that the court should sist and that the SFA should now take the matter forward by arranging for an independent tribunal.

The SFA will not sit in judgment on the case but they have a list of former judges and sheriffs from which the panel will be selected.

Lord Clark explained that he would grant Hearts’ and Thistle’s request for documents to be uncovered relating to the case before it is heard by a tribunal. He said the panel should be given full and proper disclosure of documents.

Both clubs believe details on Dundee’s controversial vote and how the SPFL handled the ballot to end the season – which ultimately relegated Hearts and Thistle – must be scrutinised through the release of emails and related papers.

A spokesperson for the SPFL said: “We welcome today's decision at the Court of Session that this case should be dealt with under the Scottish FA’s arbitration process. We will now prepare for the Scottish FA arbitration.”

The SPFL board proposed ending the 2019/20 campaign based on average points per game after matches were suspended in March due to the global pandemic.

More than 80 per cent of the league’s member clubs voted in favour. That resulted in relegation for Hearts, Partick and Stranraer from the Premiership, Championship and League One respectively.

However, Dundee were controversially allowed to change their initial ‘no’ vote to ‘yes’, which proved the casting vote to swing the poll in favour of the season ending early.

Hearts and Thistle opened legal proceedings after league reconstruction talks – which would have resolved discord over what they deem “unfair relegations” – collapsed last month.

They wanted relegations and promotions scrapped by the Court of Session and, if not, they sought £8million and £2m respectively in compensation.

The two teams, and indeed the rest of Scottish football, must now wait to find out when an independent tribunal will hear their complaint.

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