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Hearts and Partick Thistle to take SPFL fight to arbitration

Lord Clark ruled that the dispute over relegation should be dealt with by an SFA -convened panel.

Hearts and Partick Thistle have been told that their fight against relegation must go to arbitration and will not be heard by the Court of Session.

The clubs were told that an arbitration panel convened by the Scottish Football Association should consider the case.

The clubs had taken legal action after they were relegated when Scottish Professional Football League member clubs voted to cut short the 2019/20 season and decide prizes, promotion and relegation on a point-per-game basis.

Hearts and Thistle sought to cancel that ruling.

Lawyers for both the SPFL and promoted clubs Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers argued that football rules showed that the clubs were bound to go to arbitration before any court action.

After hearing evidence from all parties over the past three days, Lord Clark ruled that the matter should be heard by a Hampden arbitration panel.

A motion from the promoted clubs to dismiss the court proceedings entirely was dismissed.

Hearts and Thistle’s QC David Thomson was successful in a move to recover documents from both the league and three champion clubs to help prepare their case.

Lord Clark said in his ruling: “I accept entirely, as Mr Thomson submitted, that the media and the general public have a great interest in this dispute and would prefer to have the issues aired in open court.

“However, as a matter of law, the parties have agreed to the terms of SFA articles of association and to be bound by them.

“Accordingly, SPFL and Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers are entitled to invoke the arbitration provisions within these articles of association of the SFA, which will result in the dispute being dealt with by arbitration.

“I am not entitled as a matter of law to refuse the application to sist on the grounds that the interest of public in the dispute should override the agreement reached by the parties.”

The Premiership season is set to start on August 1 but Lord Clark said he trusted that arbitration could begin quickly.

“During the hearing I raised questions about whether the arbitration procedure will be able to determine this matter before August 1,” he said.

“While, for obvious reasons, I have not been given any absolute assurances on this matter, senior counsel for the SPFL and for Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers have each submitted that there is no reason to conclude that the matter cannot be dealt with in arbitration before August 1 and indeed, as I understood it, that their clients are reasonably confident that it can be.”

A spokesman for the SPFL said: “We welcome today’s decision at the Court of Session that this case should be dealt with under the Scottish FA’s arbitration process.  We will now prepare for the Scottish FA arbitration.”

Hearts and Partick Thisle issued a joint statement after the ruling.

It read: “After three days of detailed and complex submissions, Heart of Midlothian and Partick Thistle today learned the outcome of our preliminary hearing in the Court of Session, presided over by Lord Clark.

“It is important to note that this was only to determine how to proceed.  

“Lord Clark found in our favour in two motions while we were unsuccessful in one. While denied the opportunity for a public hearing in Court this simply means we now pursue the same outcome in a different forum.

“Importantly, we were successful in the motion to get access to a number of documents that will be key to support our case in arbitration.

“Both clubs are also pleased to have received a fair hearing and feel it important to point to Lord Clark’s words that: “I do not blame the petitioners for not raising proceedings or seeking arbitration whilst that important and potentially crucial alternative [of reconstruction] was available and was actively being facilitated by the SPFL.”

“We promised our supporters that we would fight for them and we shall continue to do so.

“Neither club will be making any further comment today. “