Following an investigation into alleged rule breaches by Rangers, and a subsequent hearing by a judicial panel, the Scottish FA imposed a registration embargo and fine on the club on Monday night.
In total, Rangers were found guilty of breaching five counts of the governing body’s disciplinary rules, with one further allegation returning a ‘not proven’ verdict.
It is the breach of rule 66, and the punishment which ensued, which has caused the most consternation amongst the club’s support. For bringing the game into disrepute, the tribunal imposed a £100,000 fine and a ban on registering new players over the age of 18 for the next 12 months.
The decision to prohibit Rangers from signing new players was immediately called into question by commentators with reference to the Scottish FA’s Judicial Panel Protocol, which came into force at the start of the season.
The protocol, which is publicly available to view, outlines a scale of suggested punishments for each breach of the rules. In the case of rule 66, the sanctions available include a maximum fine of £100,000, suspension or expulsion from the game, ejection from the Scottish Cup and/or termination of membership.
With that in mind, the question was immediately raised. How did the panel arrive at the decision to ban Rangers from signing players for the next year when it is not a readily apparent punishment within the scale of sanctions?
The answer is contained within the tribunal’s published determination and made reference to articles 94.1 and 95 of the Scottish FA’s Articles of Association, which relate to the permitted penalties for any infringement of the rules.
Rule 94.1 refers to the powers of the judicial panel, stating it “shall be the sole judge” when a club “in any way brings the game into disrepute or any other grounds it considers sufficient”.
Interpreting that article, the Scottish FA essentially has the power to call a club before the judicial panel for any reason it wishes, even if a specific rule hasn’t been breached.
Rule 95 then provides a mechanism for an indepedent tribunal to impose any sanction it wishes outwith the guidelines set down by the Judical Panel Protocol, leading to the decision to hit Rangers with a registration embargo.
It states: “The Judicial Panel shall have the jurisdiction, subject to the terms of the Judicial Panel Protocol, to deal with any alleged infringement of any provision of these articles.
“A… club… if found to have infringed the articles shall be liable to censure or to a fine or to a suspension or to an expulsion from the Challenge Cup [Scottish Cup] Competition, to any combination of these penalties or such other penalty, condition or sanction as the Judicial Panel considers appropriate, including such other sanctions as are contained within the Judicial Panel Protocol, in order to deal justly with the case in question.”
It is also important to note that the scale of sanctions which are detailed serve to any tribunal only as a suggested framework for punishments. As we have already seen this season with the verdict on disciplinary charges against Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Hearts boss Paulo Sergio, the scale of sanctions shouldn’t be treated as fixed eventualities.
A tribunal has the flexibility, using the framework, to impose a penalty as it sees fit. So where one rule may say the “lower end” punishment should be a ban of three games, it is perfectly acceptable for a two-match suspension to be imposed.
Additionally, as we now know, the tribunal can impose any other sanction it sees fit where there has been a breach of the Articles of Association. It is not possible, however, to exceed the maximum sanction outlined.
The independent panel, then, has acted within the parameters of the Scottish FA’s rulebook to deliver their sanctions upon Rangers. An appeal is permitted within three days of correspondence on the decision being reached, which would be heard by an Appellate Tribunal.
This tribunal has the power to either “affirm the decision of the appealed tribunal”, uphold the appeal, uphold the appeal in part, substitute the appealed determination for a breach of a different rule, order a lesser sanction, refer the case back to the original tribunal or, keeping in the spirit of other rules, use its discretion to take whatever action it deems appropriate to “deal justly with the case in question”.