Decision Date: 18th June 2013

Court of Appeal considers whether there is a requirement incumbent on a disciplinary committee to give reasons for their decision and whether or not a failure to do so can be said to produce overall unfairness.

The Appellant (A) appealed against the decision of Southend County Court to strike out his claim against the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (R). The ground of appeal that occupied the court was whether R’s failure to give reasons for finding against A in a disciplinary inquiry fettered A’s route of appeal and interfered with his civil rights.

Background

In December 2010 A was found guilty of breaches of R’s Rules of Racing (“the Rules”); he was fined £750.00 and ordered to pay £10,000.00 towards R’s costs. Although the Rules provided for an appeal to the Appeal Board (AB), A did not pursue an appeal within the prescribed time or at all. Nor did he pay the fine or the costs. His license expired by the passage of time on 31 December 2010 without his making any application to renew it.

On 27 July 2011 R served a statutory demand in respect of the unpaid fine and costs. A did not pay them but in September 2011 commenced proceedings against R. A raised a number of grounds alleging, amongst other things: the denial of his right to a fair trial; a denial of natural justice; denial of the right to work; that the R was biased and acted ultra vires and unlawfully. This claim was struck out by the Southend County Court on 12th March 2012 and A appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The ground of appeal that occupied the Court of Appeal was whether R “should have given reasons for finding against him [A] in a disciplinary inquiry as this fettered his route of appeal and interfered with his civil rights.” In determining the appeal against the decision to strike out the Court (composed of Maurice Kay LJ, Richards LJ and Pitchford LJ) had only to consider whether this ground of appeal was arguable. The Court approach its decision in two stages, considering first whether any duty existed for the disciplinary committee to give reasons for its decisions and secondly whether, if there was a duty to give reasons, and no reasons had been given that deficiency produced overall unfairness so as to require the appeal to be allowed.

In relation to the giving of reasons the Court concluded that the absolutist stance of R (namely that there was no duty incumbent upon the DC to give reasons for their decision) was arguably wrong and that, at least at some stage in the procedure a duty to give reasons arises. Maurice Kay LJ went on to say at [16] that “even if an affected person has no wish to challenge an adverse decision he may be entitled, as a matter of law, to such reasons.” In making their decision on this point the Court considered but, perhaps predictably, did not follow McInnes v Onslow-Fane [1978] 1 WLR 1520 a case concerning a licensing decision by the British Boxing Board of Control which suggested that, in the context of that case there was no obligation on the Board to give even the gist of their reasons for refusing the application. The Court appears instead at [15-16] to have preferred the submissions of A’s Counsel to the effect that in recent authorities regulatory bodies (whether statutory or voluntary) which make decisions of a disciplinary nature and which may have a profound impact on a person’s ability to participate in his chosen occupation, are generally required, as a matter of procedural fairness, to provide reasons for their decisions.

The court went on to find that even if it was arguable that the DC had been under a duty to give reasons the availability of appeal where reasons would certainly have been available meant that the failure to give reasons could not be said to produce overall unfairness. In coming to its conclusion and dismissing the appeal the Court dismissed A’s contention that the lack of reasons in the decision of the DC meant A was unable to formulate grounds of appeal within the rules. With respect to such a submission Maurice Kay LJ stated at [20] that:

“I am wholly persuaded by this analysis. Even without being provided with reasons by the DC, [the A] and his advisors must have been well aware that the stark conflicts of evidence had been resolved to his disadvantage. They had also had made available to them DVD recordings of the entire proceedings which were delivered with the decision letter… That coupled with their knowledge of the proceedings would have been sufficient material with which to commence an appeal.“

This case considers the nature of any existing requirement on regulatory bodies (statutory or voluntary) to provide written reasons for their decisions. It also demonstrates that the question of whether or not a failure to give reasons constitutes overall unfairness is a matter to be judged on the individual facts of each case.