Jim Best may seek High Court ruling over rehearing dispute with BHA
British Horseracing Authority Jim Best may seek High Court ruling over rehearing dispute with BHA Respected QC instructed to argue the case
Trainer and BHA argue over rehearing date and panel members
Arrangements for the rehearing of the Jim Best case could shortly become a matter for the law courts. Solicitors for the Lewes trainer, exasperated by what they see as intransigence from the British Horseracing Authority, are expected to take the matter to the High Court if no progress is made in discussions between the two sides.
However, the prospect of agreement seems remote in view of the BHA response when asked to comment on the possibility of litigation. A statement from the regulator insisted it would not agree to change either the date of the rehearing or the proposed panel members, while noting that Best’s team is allowed to appeal to the panel itself on those subjects.
It is understood that Richard Wilson QC has been instructed on Best’s behalf. According to the Legal 500 guide to barristers, his reputation is “for being cogent and determined in court … His arguments are regularly described as ‘admirable’ and ‘attractively presented’ by judges”.
Adam Brickell’s departure from BHA may not be the last after Jim Best case Read more
The timing of the rehearing is the principal source of contention, with the BHA pointing out that the week beginning 19 September was identified months ago as a potentially appropriate time, with all relevant parties asked to keep it clear in their diaries. Since then, however, it has emerged that the BHA’s disciplinary practices and procedures would be reviewed by an independent person, Christopher Quinlan QC, whose report is to be published on 30 September.
The Quinlan review took on even greater significance a week ago, with the news that the BHA’s integrity director, Adam Brickell, would leave the organisation in mid-September. While the authority insists Brickell’s departure has nothing to do with the disaster his department has become this year, it will not go ahead with the necessary reshuffle of responsibility until officials have had a chance to consider the implications of Quinlan’s report.
Quinlan could recommend change in the way the BHA appoints disciplinary panel members, the qualifications needed to sit on a panel, the BHA’s approach to disclosure, the use made of expert evidence and the manner in which the BHA presents its cases. He may also have something to say about whether it is appropriate for the BHA to use a QC, Graeme McPherson, who is also regulated by them as a licensed racehorse trainer. McPherson has so far represented the BHA at every stage of the Best case.
Best’s solicitors argue that, after months of vexed proceedings, it would be folly for the BHA to rehear the case in the week of 19 September, with the clear possibility that an overhaul of the system may be recommended the following week. They have also raised queries about the suitability of two of the three panel members named by the BHA but have been told the regulator is no longer willing to debate such points and that the only recourse is to take such concerns to the panel itself.
If Best presses ahead with his action, it could be heard in the High Court as early as next week. His lawyers would argue that the rehearing has not been arranged in the manner envisaged at the appeal hearing in May, when the regulator’s prediction was: “This is not a case where anyone would be imposed on Mr Best or where the objective observer would be able to say, ‘Oh, the BHA has picked its own chairman.’”
The BHA’s Robin Mounsey said: “Following clear direction from the appeal board, which stated that a rehearing of the Jim Best case was in the interests of British racing, the BHA has sought to put together a suitably qualified panel, in accordance with the rules of racing, and meeting the appeal board’s direction that it should be of unquestionable independence.
“As Mr Best chose not to accept our offer to use Sport Resolutions to convene a panel, the BHA has proposed a provisional panel. A process exists which allows the parties to formally raise a challenge to any panel member, a process which, if followed to its conclusion, would see an appeal board ruling on the suitability of the panel. This process is fair and transparent and will ensure the appointment of a suitably qualified and impartial panel.
“The timing of the rehearing has been proposed for several months, with all parties having stated their and their legal advisers availability for dates in September, which they were then asked to hold. Any challenge from Mr Best to the timing and/or final composition of the panel is in the hands of the chair of the disciplinary panel, who will make the necessary directions as to how to proceed.”
Best was charged with ordering a jockey to stop two of his horses in December. He was initially found in breach and banned from racing for four years but that verdict was quashed at appeal on the grounds of apparent bias relating to the chairman of the original panel and also because the published reasons were insufficient to support the verdict.