The RPC Sports team published this update on the FA Commission's decision to ban Joey Barton for 18 months (and this blog uses the same definitions). Joey Barton's ban followed various breaches of FA Rules concerning bets on professional football matches. Since then, Barton has succeeded in persuading the FA Appeal Board to reduce his absolute ban from football activities by nearly 5 months, meaning his suspension will now end on 1 June 2018 instead of 25 October 2018. The FA Appeal Board maintained Barton's financial penalty of £30,000.
Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers (acting for Barton as he did in the main hearing) argued that: 1) an 18 month ban was excessive; and 2) the Commission failed to give reasons for rejecting independent expert evidence concerning Barton's gambling addiction.
The 18 month ban was excessive
De Marco submitted that the 18 month ban was disproportionate to previous decisions of the FA Commission. No player previously convicted of betting against his own team, in matches he did not himself play in, had received a ban greater than 6 months. Moreover, bans of 12 months or more had only been handed to players who had placed bets on their own team, and then played in those matches – often with other serious aggravating factors also at play.
The FA Appeal Board rejected this argument – in doing so it noted that one FA Commission was not bound by the decision of previous FA Commissions. The Guidelines expressly state that a player betting on his own team is a serious aggravating factor and that it is the duty of the FA Commission to carefully consider each aggravating and mitigating circumstance. With the important exception of the FA Commission's handling of expert evidence, discussed below, the FA Appeal Board considered that the reasoning behind the 18 month ban to be correct.
No reasons for rejecting independent expert evidence
Expert evidence of Barton's gambling addiction was put before the FA Commission, which accepted various aspects of the expert's opinion. However, on the issue of the severity of addiction, it was persuaded by the FA's arguments which (importantly) were not themselves based on expert evidence.
Barton's gambling addiction was not disputed. The degree of control Barton had over that addiction was a crucial issue. The expert's central opinion was that Barton was not addicted to gambling for monetary reasons (he was a wealthy man who never bet beyond his means). Instead, Barton had a moderate to severe addiction to the process of gambling itself.
In the absence of any satisfying reason for rejecting this part of the expert evidence, the FA Appeal Board found that the FA Commission had acted unreasonably. In doing so, they considered this aspect of the evidence to be a compelling mitigating factor and reduced Barton's suspension accordingly.
Why is this important?
The decision of the FA Appeal Board shows, importantly, that it is willing to challenge, correct and critique the decisions of the FA Commission. It is an inherent part of a system without binding case law that concerns exist about the range and disparity of sanctions handed down by FA Commissions.
It means that the independence of FA Commissions is inevitably called into question, especially where the reputation of the characters involved may precede the facts.
The written reasons of the FA Appeal Board are available on the FA's website here.