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Kangaroo Courts

When did players, coaches and administrators all become such experts on the law? It seems that Football judiciaries are receiving as many headlines as the players and the games themselves and perhaps it is that, just as players and referees make mistakes, so do judiciaries.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been the citing of the Wallaby and the coach had a major whinge about that. He subsequently received a three week suspension, to more outcry. There was the Rugby League player who called the NRL Judiciary a “kangaroo court” and, despite maintaining his position and being supported by high-profile coach Wayne Bennett, subsequently withdrew his comments and apologised. There was the great controversy about the AFL player and whether or not the punishment was deserving and indeed whether what he had done the week before when he fronted the judiciary was worse and whether he should have been penalised on that occasion.

Disciplinary tribunals are typically made up of lawyers and ex-players and people who have an “expert” knowledge of the game. In many cases they are volunteers and unpaid (not all of course) and they are always passionately involved in their particular code. The tribunals all have detailed rules and by-laws and the rules of natural justice generally apply. Natural justice seems like a simple thing, but when people and teams are desperate, it becomes anything other than simple.

Queenslander John Forbes has written a book called Justice in Tribunals. It is now in its 4th edition and is some 385 pages. So clearly the issue around finding justice in tribunals and applying natural justice is not that simple.

Do tribunals get things wrong? Of course they do. Do they generally get things wrong? Of course they don’t. The tribunals are made up of human beings and, like players, coaches, referees and, dare I say it, refereeing review services, get it wrong, so do tribunals. But like players, coaches and referees, without tribunals we probably don’t have a game.

My final comment is very rarely do we hear criticism of tribunals from players that are acquitted and from people involved that have a totally biased and interested position in the outcome.

The one thing that I am confident about, having observed tribunals over an extended period in Australia, is the level of diligence and integrity demonstrated by the members of such tribunals. It may happen, but I have never seen an openly corrupt or biased outcome in high-profile football tribunals in Australia.

Kangaroo courts? I don’t think so.

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."