10. Views on Rights of Appeal
The Scottish Government considers that to protect the rights of both trusts and owner(s)/operator(s) of a football club, it might be argued that it is important to put in place an appeals process in the context of making a law to give supporters rights in the decision-making or ownership of their football club.
Question 8: What are your views on rights of appeal, in the context of making a law to give supporters rights in the decision-making or ownership of their football club?
394 respondents provided a relevant response to this question, including 20 organisations and 374 individuals.
Overall, most were in favour of establishing rights of appeal in this context, particularly a large majority of individual respondents. A few respondents suggested that their support depended on who appeals could be made to and the criteria for appealing. A small minority stated they did not agree with legislation in this context.
Views in favour of establishing rights of appeal
The main reason in favour of rights of appeal was that these are routine aspects of justice, part of balance and checking procedures and good practice where legislation such as this is enacted.
"If these proposals do proceed to law, then it would be prudent, if not an obligation, to include right of appeal processes" (East Ayrshire Council).
Another prominent rationale was that establishing rights of appeal would be democractic and fair to both sides, a formal route to dispute resolution.
Other less prominent supporting reasons were: that an appeals process would help to safeguard clubs against unscrupulous deals; would provide a platform for the voices of supporters to be heard; would ensure transparency in dealings; would contribute to more balanced decision-making; and would provide an opportunity for challenging decisions perceived as not in the best interests of the club.
A strong theme to emerge from individuals and organisations was that, should an appeals process be introduced, it should have clear parameters to reduce risk of spurious appeals, to keep it in proportion and to prevent lengthy, complex procedures arising which could delay important decisions being made with potential to affect market value of the club.
"This would appear to reflect good practice but the process would require to be robust and quick enough so as to avoid drawn out decision-making and high cost to parties involved" (Stirling Council).
"...any "appeal period" in which either (a) third parties are locked out from bidding and/or finalising any deals to invest in a club or purchase its shares or assets or (b) any specific decision of the club's board of directors is under review, would cut across existing duties of directors, would negatively affect the market value of the relevant club's underlying shares and assets and the club's ability to secure investment" (Celtic plc).
In addition, concern was expressed over the funding of appeals, questioning who would pay for them. One individual respondent recommended that the SPFL or Scottish FA foot the bill. Other concerns were raised, such as ensuring that appeals do not rely on the ability to fund a legal case which could disadvantage most supporter groups; and that a formal appeals process may add further legal and financial complications to clubs with cash-flow or administrative difficulties.
Views on who should be on the appeal board
A wide range of views emerged from a small number of responses on who the appeal should be made to. A prevailing view was that the appeal board should be independent from the parties concerned, with the process transparent.
Recommendations for membership of the board included:
- Court of session
- English court
- A new body set up by the Scottish Government such as an Ombudsman for sporting issues
- Scottish Government
- Governing body of football
- Shareholder representative
- Supporter representative
Views opposing the establishment of rights of appeal
A small minority of those who addressed this question clearly opposed the establishment of rights of appeal, largely on the grounds that if the legislation on supporters' rights is comprehensive, there will be no need for further processes such as appeal procedures. Some considered that existing mechanisms such as company law should suffice, with additional appeal processes a waste of money. A few stated that establishing rights of appeal is not an immediate priority and can be revisited at a future date.
Many other reasons to oppose the introduction of rights of appeal were highlighted:
- Overly bureaucratic and not workable, too expensive and messy.
- Doubts over effectiveness ( e.g. "no doubt the SFA will act as judge, jury and executioner, and as always will act in its own interest before anything else..............having a right of appeal really is a futile exercise" (Individual)).
- There are other, less intrusive forms of resolving conflicts such as discussions between parties.
- Could end up extending the period of purchase to the detriment of the club.
- Doubts over whether owners would go along with a final appeal decision which they do not like.
- Could be exploited by owners who might use it repeatedly until they get their own way.
- Could be exploited by supporter groups ( e.g. "...would any supporters' group which has been unsuccessful in securing rights of representation have the right of appeal? If so, there is a clear risk of there being a string of appeals from variously constituted supporters' groups" (Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Limited).
- Disputing parties should simply go along with what the ruling bodies decide should happen.
- Could put potential investors off.
- Could create a barrier between the supporters and the club.
Summary of key points
Most respondents to this question, including a large majority of individuals, agreed with establishing rights of appeal in the context of making a law to give supporters rights in the decision-making or ownership of their football club.
The main reasons in support were that rights of appeal are routine aspects of justice, part of balance and checking procedures and good practice where legislation such as this is enacted. Other prominent views were that rights of appeal would be democratic and fair to different parties and would provide a formal route to dispute resolution.
A recurring view was that any appeals process should have clear parameters to reduce the risk of spurious appeals and delays in finalising decisions.
Recommendations were made for the appeal Board to be independent and to work in a transparent manner.
Amongst the small minority of opponents, the prevailing view was that existing mechanisms and legislation should suffice, with no additional need for appeal procedures. Concerns were raised that new appeals processes might be overly bureaucratic and expensive.