Rangers win court challenge over SFA transfer ban

image captionRangers were placed into administration in February

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.

Rangers administrators Duff and Phelps said the club's position had been vindicated and that they would study the judgement and consider their course of action.

The SFA said it was surprised by the verdict and would consult its legal advisers.

BBC Scotland has learned that a number of SPL clubs are extremely disappointed with the ruling.

One club chairman said there was an "increased animosity" towards Rangers after they took the case to court.

One of Europe's leading experts in sports law has also told BBC Scotland there could be wider implications for Scottish football.

Judicial review

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

The disrepute charge was handed down mainly over the club's failure to pay more than £13m in taxes last season.

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.

Original tribunal

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".

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

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

An SFA spokesman said: "We are surprised by today's verdict at the Court of Session, especially since the original sanction against Rangers FC was imposed by an independent panel chaired by a leading QC and upheld by an Appellate Tribunal chaired by a Supreme Court Judge.

"We will now consider our position with our legal advisers before making any further comment."

Fifa request

Paul Clark, joint administrator with Duff and Phelps, said: "We welcome the decision by Judge Lord Glennie today that vindicates the club's position that the original SFA judicial panel tribunal and the appellate tribunal acted beyond their powers in imposing a transfer embargo on the club.

He added: "Both we, and the SFA, will have to study the full ramifications of the judgment when it is published and either side has 21 days in which to decide the next course of action or whether they wish to appeal."

The decision now places Rangers on a possible collision course with football's governing bodies.

Prior to the court's decision, the world governing body Fifa said: "Fifa will ask the member association (SFA) to take action so that the club withdraws its request from the ordinary courts.

"Fifa will closely monitor the situation so that the issue is resolved as fast as possible."

In an interview with Newsnight Scotland, Dr Gregory Ioannidis, who has represented a number of clubs at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, warned the consequences of the judge's ruling could be damaging for Scottish football.

He said: "If the Scottish Football Association decides to not take action against Rangers, in relation to Rangers submitting the application to the Court of Session, then Fifa can actually penalise the SFA, and the individual club, and the national team of Scotland, and impose an international ban on all of them."

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