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HRA was appropriate authority to make judgement on Fallon; Thoughts on Thursday.

Byline: DAVID ASHFORTH

THE Horseracing Regulatory Authority's controversial decision to ban Kieren Fallon, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams until their cases have been tried, probably not for another 18 months, has come under further attack.

Peter Savill, the former BHB chairman, believes that the HRA was not the right body to decide whether to ban the three jockeys. Savill (Racing Post, August 9) maintains that the HRA, disqualified by "a clear conflict of interest", should have asked the BHB to make the decision and that, if it had done so, the jockeys would not have been banned.

Jonathan Harvie QC, acting for Fallon, believes that comparisons with Alice in Wonderland, referred to by John Magnier and Michael Tabor, were "well made", in particular the passage in which the Queen demands, "sentence first, verdict afterwards". Harvie acknowledges (Racing Post, August 6) that Mr Justice Davis's recent judgement, rejecting Fallon's application to have his suspension overturned, "puts things in an altogether different perspective," but adds, "the reality of 'sentence first, verdict afterwards' may remain, at least to some, an unsettling and oppressive state of affairs".

Savill's contention, although characteristically well argued, is mistaken. The HRA did not ban the jockeys because it believed they had a case to answer but because the Crown Prosecution Service, the only body with access to all the evidence, believed there was a case to answer, one with "enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction" - the test the CPS is required to apply when deciding whether to prefer charges. Only time, and a trial, will reveal whether the CPS's judgement was sound.

The HRA was not, as Savill contends, "effectively co-prosecutor" - the sole preserve of the CPS - and Mr Justice Davis made it very clear that, in his judgement - from which Mr Harvie did not seek permission to appeal - the HRA acted wholly correctly in refusing to consider the alleged strength or weakness of the Crown's case against Fallon.

The references to Alice in Wonderland were made in the wake of Mr Justice Davis's judgement but his ruling was concerned purely with whether the HRA's decision to suspend Fallon, following the CPS's decision to charge him with a serious criminal offence, was within the bounds of fairness and reasonableness. The judge decided, unequivocally, that it was.

As the sport's regulatory body, the HRA was certainly the appropriate authority for making the decision, a decision upheld by an independent appeal board. The fact that many people - including me - disagree with the HRA's judgement about the likely impact of allowing the jockeys to continue to ride does not mean that the BHB should have made the decision. The BHB should not be deciding jockeys' licence applications.

The weakest element in the HRA's published reasons for banning the jockeys is the contention that, "there is a strong likelihood that racing would be severely damaged both by the possibility of further race fixing, and the perception of such' and by the adverse reaction of many members of the racing public to the concept that a jockey charged with an offence which is so close to the heart of the sport is permitted to continue to participate".

Like many others, I disagree with that judgement and believe that in "the balancing exercise" undertaken by the HRA, between, in one scale, the principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty and the hardship caused to the jockeys by a ban and, in the other, the potential damage to racing's reputation by allowing them to continue to ride, the correct balance was not struck. But, like Mr Justice Davis, I also believe that the HRA's decision was within the bounds of reason.

Fallon's lawyers may have been amazed and appalled by the CPS's decision to charge their client, and Magnier and Tabor dismayed by the HRA's subsequent decision to suspend him but, had they been in court, it is hard to believe that they would have been surprised by Mr Justice Davis's rejection of the application to have Fallon's suspension overturned.

The HRA maintains that, if the jockeys had not been banned, "the damage done [to racing's reputation and integrity] would be very hard to repair," but one wonders how much damage will be done to the reputation of racing's regulatory regime, and how hard it will be to repair, if Fallon is found not guilty.

The former champion jockey will, on the HRA's own admission, have suffered severely, and suffered because of a questionable verdict by the HRA - not a verdict about guilt or innocence, but about the effect of imposing or not imposing a ban. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland has partly had her way because, while the main verdict has yet to be reached, there has already been a sentence.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 10, 2006
Words:793
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