The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association
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Terry acquittal shows courtroom limits - July-13-12
Source: The Times - Law
John Terry’s acquittal on a charge of a racially aggravated public order offence begs a number of questions about the application of the criminal law in such cases.
While it is important that allegations of improper behaviour on the football field are properly scrutinised - particularly where there is a suggestion of racist conduct - it may be that a court of law is not always the best forum.
The time taken to bring a case to trial has the impact that damaging allegations remain up in the air for an extended period of time.
Further, because of the application of the criminal standard of proof and the context in which such allegations arise – the hurly burly and confusion of a competitive sport - it will inevitably be extremely difficult to secure a conviction. If nothing else, Terry’s acquittal demonstrates this.
In the leading decision relating to the application of the criminal law in sport R v Barnes, Lord Woolf, sitting in the Court of Appeal, made plain that it should be limited to the most serious cases, with the recognition that sports governing bodies can effectively regulate their own affairs. In this case the criminal proceedings have required the postponement of the Football Association’s own investigation.
Barnes arose in the context of a bad tackle and it would be wrong to draw a direct comparison between the two cases. However, it is arguable that in Terry’s case the Football Association may be better positioned to effectively regulate on-field behaviour.
The offence of which Terry was acquitted carries a maximum penalty of a £2,500 fine; which is a trifle for someone as well paid as the Chelsea captain, although the stigma which would have arisen had he been found guilty would inevitably had a significant impact. The Football Association not only has the benefit of relying on a less stringent standard of proof but also has wider and more effective range of penalties – fines and suspensions - which it can deploy in such cases.
Beyond these obvious advantages, had the Terry case been dealt with by the football authorities an incident which took place in October 2011 could have been resolved in a matter of weeks, rather than rumbling on for so long.
Simon Boyes is a Senior Lecturer specialising in sports law at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University.
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