Nicholas Randall QC acted for Hull City in successful landmark challenge to the decision of the FA Council to refuse the Club’s application to change its playing name to Hull Tigers.
Hull City have succeeded in quashing the decision of the FA Council to refuse its application to change the Club’s playing name to Hull Tigers. The Club’s challenge was unanimously upheld by an Arbitral Panel appointed under Rule K of the Rules of the FA (the Right Hon. Sir Stanley Burnton, Chairman, Tim Kerr QC and Nicholas Stewart QC).
The decision represents a landmark development in the legal control of sporting bodies as it confirms that such bodies are not immune from the fundamental requirements of procedural fairness even though a substantial margin of appreciation will often be permitted to such bodies when performing their regulatory activities. It also demonstrates the fact that fairness will, in some cases, place limits on the extent to which individuals who represent other interest groups within the sport in question can blindly follow the policies and views of the body which they represent.
The Club challenged the decision of the FA not to allow its application to change its playing name from Hull City to Hull Tigers at the start of the 2014-2015 football season on procedural grounds. It was common ground that the standard of review available to the Panel was the equivalent of that in judicial review: see Bradley v The Jockey Club  EWHC 2164 (QB).
The Panel accepted the Club’s case that the decision was tainted by bias and could not stand. In particular the Club challenged the participation of Dr Clarke in the decision making process. Dr Clarke was the Chair of the Football Supporters Association and had been vigorously opposed to the Club’s application in public. In particular he had expressed the view that such an application should only be allowed if the majority of supporters wanted it. This view was in conflict with the FA’s own Rule book which required all relevant factors to be taken into account. The allegation of bias against Dr Clarke was therefore upheld by the Panel. The decision is of particular significance to sporting bodies because of the way in which the Panel interpreted the consequences of Dr Clarke’s participation.
The Panel rejected the view that it had no causative effect because the final decision was taken by 100 delegates. Instead it considered that Dr Clarke’s participation had a “powerful causative effect” on the final decision of the Council. This is because of his role on the Membership Committee which was responsible for certain aspects of the overall process.