A recent judgment of the High Court has considered the status of the Turf Club in Irish law.
The case of O'Connell & anor v The Turf Club & anor  IEHC 175 involved an application for judicial review which arose out of an inquiry by the Turf Club into a horserace in Northern Ireland. The applicants were a jockey and a racehorse trainer who were both licensed by the Turf Club.
It was alleged by the Turf Club that there was a suspicious betting pattern on a particular horse trained by the trainer and of which the jockey was rider, and also that the jockey had failed to ride the horse to its maximum ability contrary to the Rules of Racing (the “Rules”). The Turf Club indicated that its Referrals Committee (the “Committee”) would consider the allegations and the applicants sought to judicially review that decision.
The applicants challenged the constitutionality of parts of the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994 as amended (the "Act") and the powers exercised by the Turf Club but did not claim that they were denied fair procedures or natural justice.
The applicants claimed:
- That because the Turf Club was granted statutory recognition in the Act it was a public body whose actions were amenable to judicial review.
- The promulgation of the Rules by the Turf Club was ultra vires the statutory authority vested in it by the Act insofar as the particular Rules did not advance principles or policies contained in the legislation.
- Sections 39 and 45 of the Act violated Article 15.2.1° of the Constitution, in failing to set out principles and policies to guide the exercise of the authority vested in the Turf Club and accordingly was an impermissible derogation of the legislative functions.
- Sections 39, 45 and 62 of the Act of 1994 violated Articles 34.1 and 37 of the Constitution in allowing the exercise of a judicial function without apparent limitations.
The Judge commented that legally the Turf Club was in an unusual position in that it was not established by legislation but pre-existed it and was then incorporated in the Racing Regulation Body established under the Act. In this way the regulation of horseracing had been put on a statutory footing even if the Rules which already existed (and operated on the basis of contract) continued to apply.
The Judge found that the Racing Regulatory Body was amenable to judicial review and that since the Turf Club was incorporated in the Racing Regulatory Body, it must be amenable to judicial review also.
The Turf Club had argued that as the applicants agreed to be bound by the Rules and the decisions of the Turf Club when applying for their licences, they were estopped from bringing the application. However the Judge held that as the decisions of the Turf Club were amenable to judicial review the applicants could not be estopped from bringing the proceedings merely because of those agreements.
The court rejected the argument that the Turf Club had "by making and enforcing the Rules of Racing, taken to itself the exclusive power to regulate the industry without any guidance from the Oireachtas regarding the principles and policies to be pursued in this regard”. The Court found that in the Act the Oireachtas prescribed sufficient principles and policies and that the Rules do no more than give effect to those principles and policies.
The Court also rejected the argument that sections of the Act were unconstitutional on the grounds that the powers and functions delegated were judicial powers and functions and held that the powers exercised by the Turf Club under the Rules did not amount to an “administration of justice”. In this regard the court considered it relevant that each of the applicants agreed to be bound by the Rules when applying to be licensed by the Turf Club.
Accordingly the application was refused.
The case provides clarity on the status and powers of the Turf Club. While the pre-1994 case law established that the Turf Club was not amenable to judicial review, that position has changed entirely by virtue of the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994.