Summary

In the recent case of Chelsea Football Club Ltd v Corrigan [2019] 7 WLUK 226 the Queen's Bench Division in the UK imposed a suspended sentence of 26 weeks' imprisonment for contempt on a ticket tout.

This decision forms part of a wider trend of football clubs and sporting bodies taking action against illegal ticket sales and protecting their interests.

Background

Following on from a sting investigation, Chelsea Football Club (Chelsea) instigated legal proceedings against several ticket touts seeking injunctions preventing illegal selling of tickets. The Court considered the principles established by American Cyanamid v Ethicon [1975] AC 396:

  • whether there is a serious issue to be tried,
  • the adequacy of damages as compensation and
  • where the balance of convenience of lies.

The Court found in favour of Chelsea and granted orders for injunctive relief against several ticket touts, one of which was the defendant in Chelsea v Corrigan. The Court found that there was a serious issue to be tried noting that the issue of whether the defendant had committed a number of civil wrongs such as a breach of contract, inducement to breach of contract were matters to be decided at the trial of the action. Mr Corrigan was required to refrain from dealing in tickets to football matches, surrender all tickets in his possession, and submit an affidavit setting out his involvement in ticket sales and all details of his transactions to date.

Contempt of court

Mr Corrigan failed to comply with the Court order and the Court upheld a subsequent application by Chelsea to commit Mr Corrigan to prison for contempt of Court. Mr Justice Edward Murray held that a custodial sentence was appropriate as the breach had been flagrant, Mr Corrigan had failed to engage in the proceedings, and he had since failed to comply with the orders or to apologise. However, the Court also felt that the most desirable outcome would be for Mr Corrigan to purge his contempt by complying with the order and a suspended sentence was granted in order to afford the defendant time to do so.

Discussion

The Chelsea v Corrigan case follows on from a similar case Chelsea Football Club Ltd v David Bennett, Billy Thompson [2019] 5 WLUK 339 and is reflective of a trend of sporting bodies and clubs clamping down on illegal activities surrounding their professions. Similar actions have been seen in UK horse racing in Jockey Club Racecourses Ltd v Persons Unknown [2019] 4 WLUK 363 where the owner of Cheltenham racecourse brought a successful claim of trespass and obtained a permanent injunction against ticket touts. The Court was satisfied that the ticket touts were trespassing and granted the permanent injunction against 'various categories of persons unknown' to ensure a deterrent effect and protect the claimant's interests.

In Ireland, a recent development in this area is the Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017 currently progressing through the Oireachtas which proposes to criminalise the resale of tickets for excessive profits. The Bill, most recently debated in February, aims to 'render it unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale tickets for major sporting, musical or theatrical events for a price in excess of the officially designated price'.

Commentary

Football clubs, sporting bodies and the wider sporting community can take some degree of comfort from these decisions which show the courts are willing to make orders prohibiting conduct detrimental to the sporting industries.

Chelsea Football Club Ltd v Corrigan [2019]