The right to a fair hearing - BHA suspends Jim Best,


A new disciplinary panel has upheld the charges levied by the British Horseracing Authority against Lewes trainer Jim Best.  

In December 2015, Stewards Enquiries had found that conditional jockey Paul John failed to obtain the best possible place at Plumpton, and had stopped his horse at Towcester.   John gave evidence that he had not ridden the horses on their merits, and had done so on Best's instructions. The original panel accepted that evidence and banned Best for 4 years.

The case is interesting for a number of reasons.  That decision was overturned on appeal this summer, on the basis of apparent bias.  The panel had been chaired by Matthew Lohn, Senior Partner of law firm FieldFisher.  Mr Lohn was reported to have given ad hoc advice to the BHA on non-disciplinary matters since around October 2013. The BHA accepted that this could give rise to the appearance of bias - despite the issue apparently having been raised in 2014 - and the case was sent for re-hearing.  

In addition to the proceedings against Best, the BHA has confirmed that seven other cases were heard by panels chaired by Lohn. Four have been resolved with no further action, but three are ongoing.   

A generous commentator might say that Lohn's dual role reflected an approach from days gone by - when regulation was softer and a steward would have a quiet word in the ear of an errant jockey or trainer.  But as racing has become more professional, so too must the regulator, and its systems and processes must reflect that.  

A less forgiving audience would say that this is an important wake-up call for the BHA, which has previously been  accused of arrogance in disciplinary matters.  It was also an expensive and time-consuming situation to correct. It represents a lesson for professional advisers on adjudication panels to consider their various roles very carefully too.

As it happens, the new panel reached the same conclusion on Best, but significantly reduced the penalty - to a 6-month suspension.  Lengthy and detailed written reasons have been published, explaining the outcome. 

The BHA has belatedly recognised that having a fair hearing, and being seen to have a fair hearing, are distinct and necessary tenets of any adjudication procedure. Best's case shows an important step in the right direction.  

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Jim Best is once more facing a period out of racing after a disciplinary panel ruled the Lewes trainer had told a jockey to stop two horses last December
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