Rangers win court challenge over transfer ban



A judge has ruled that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) acted beyond its powers in imposing a year-long transfer ban on Rangers FC.

The ban was given, along with a fine of £100,000, after the club was charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Rangers challenged the ban at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, on the grounds it was not one of the sanctions listed in the SFA’s own regulations.

Lord Glennie said the ban should be reconsidered by the SFA appeal panel.

An SFA disciplinary tribunal originally imposed the fine and placed an embargo on Rangers signing senior players for 12 months in April this year.

Judicial review

That decision was upheld by an SFA appeals tribunal, including the judge Lord Carloway, earlier this month.

The club went to the Court of Session to challenge the decision on the additional transfer ban sanction in a judicial review of the tribunal decision.

Lord Glennie ruled that the SFA appeals tribunal was wrong in holding that it had the power to impose the additional sanction in the case and that in doing so they were acting outside their powers.

The judge set aside the decision and said he would send it back to the SFA appeal tribunal to look at it again in light of his decision.

He said the fact that he had found the extra penalty imposed on Rangers to be outside of the powers available did not necessarily mean the club would escape a lighter punishment.

Lord Glennie said that was a matter for the association.

The judge also rejected an argument made on behalf of the SFA that the correct venue for deciding any dispute was the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Rangers counsel Richard Keen QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, told the court: “We are the victim of an unlawful sanction and we have had imposed on us a sanction that the SFA panel had no right to impose.”

Mr Keen had argued that the transfer ban was outside its powers and said that under the appropriate rule a fine, suspension and expulsion were available.

‘Not competent’

“The sanction of suspending the registration of players is not available under the general disciplinary rules to the tribunal in respect of the alleged breach,” he said.

“It follows in my submission that the purported additional sanction imposed by the tribunal and confirmed by the appeal tribunal was not a competent sanction,” he told the court.

Aidan O’Neill QC, for the football authorities, had argued that the tribunal sought to find a sanction which would fit the breach committed.

He said it was clearly thought that the fine was “simply not enough given the gravity of the issues here”.

He said that if their powers of penalty were restricted to sanctions such as suspension or expulsion then suspension would have to be looked at.

Mr O’Neill told the court that the paradox was the Dean’s argument could lead to greater sanction.

“Suspension would not just simply impose a transfer ban, but would stop any playing of friendly matches in the off-season,” he said.

“Suspension is a greater sanction than the targeted sanction of the transfer ban that was in fact imposed,” said the counsel.

He said the current sanction allowed Rangers to continue to trade and play.

Original tribunal

Mr Keen said that if the matter was to be sent back it should go to the original tribunal to look at the question of sanction if that was considered appropriate.

He said that if they imposed a new sanction within their powers it could be looked at and if considered unreasonable the club would have a ground of appeal to the appellate tribunal.

Mr Keen had argued that Rangers would suffer “utterly irretrievable” prejudice if the transfer ban was allowed to stand.

After the club was placed in administration in February, senior players took substantial wage cuts.

This was conditional, however, that in return they would be able to seek a transfer for a low fee.

Mr Keen said: “These players have every incentive to go.”

He said if the transfer ban stayed in place the club could not replace them with players over 18 years of age.

If they wanted senior players to stay they and their agents knew they could not be replaced and their bargaining power would be “immeasurably stronger”.

Lord Glennie awarded the expenses of the proceedings to Rangers after saying that he took the view that the club had substantially succeeded on “the narrow point” before the court.