Sheffield Wednesday EFL charge Q&A: Why has it taken so long and how long would an appeal take?
Sheffield Wednesday head into tomorrow’s final-day clash with Middlesbrough with the threat of a relegation-threatening points deduction still hanging over their head.
The misconduct charge, brought to the club as far back as November, relates to the circumstances around the sale of their Hillsborough stadium.
There are several unanswered questions as both Sheffield Wednesday and the EFL wait on a verdict from an independent disciplinary commission. The Owls are eight points from the drop zone and could feasibly be deducted up to 21 points.
The Star spoke to Richard Cramer, a managing partner at Yorkshire-based law firm Front Row Legal recognised by Legal 500 as one of the country’s leading sports lawyers, to pick up some of the unanswered questions from Sheffield Wednesday supporters.
What is an independent disciplinary commission and how is it put together?
An independent commission is usually a three-man tribunal. It's not always the case but usually each side gets one pick each and then one place is neutral. Sometimes there could be three neutrals.
They're a combination of lawyers, sometimes accountants, barristers. But usually very experienced people that have been involved in soccer and the finances of soccer.
In my view it's more than likely that the commission will be pretty solid in terms of the quality of experience and knowledge of what goes on in the world and business of football.
In terms of that third neutral place, it could be that the two parties agree, but it will more than likely be someone who has never dealt with a Sheffield Wednesday matter and that has no dealing in the club or any conflict. Usually it's a fairly seamless and simple process to piece the panel together.
The panel members are experienced enough to come in with a very open approach with no preconceived ideas. They'll have the capability to deal with the complications associated with a claim of this nature.
Why has it all been such a closely guarded secret so far?
Anything to do with domestic tribunals have the cloak of confidentiality surrounding it. All the parties, including the members, will sign a document what imposes confidentiality on it. That's why no dirty linen is thrown up in the public domain.
Usually that will then be published on the EFL website and whilst certain things of a sensitive nature will be redacted, a large part of the final decision should be accessible. At that point members of the public should be able to see how the EFL presented their case and how Sheffield Wednesday responded to it.
Why has it dragged on so long?
This is not a typically run-of-the-mill EFL regulatory hearing. We're treading on new territory really on the sale and lease-back of grounds. This is a new issue and has had an obvious impact on the Profitability and Sustainability tests.
It could be for any number of reasons. There is a lot of paperwork and skeleton arguments and legal submissions that need careful consideration. Covid won't have helped because the tribunal members may well be working from home and can't necessarily meet together to agree on a judgement.
I would suspect we're going to get a decision pretty soon. I think the EFL will be cracking the whip to ensure they get the judgement out and the penalty decided, although there is an expectation there will be an appeal in this period as well.
How likely is it that relegated clubs will take legal action if Wednesday are not relegated?
I think it would be difficult for them to launch a challenge.
It's very unfortunate that these hearings are still taking place, I suspect they set a timetable for these hearings pre-Covid, with an expectation that the decisions would be made without interfering with promotion and relegation.
But a relegated team should not have any remedy if they feel that either Wednesday or Derby have not received an appropriate punishment. Each regulatory commission sits independently and makes an independent decision.
How long would any appeals process take?
Again, that could take some time. The impact of Covid has been immense in sport and when people are having to hear this evidence via Zoom, it is certainly making it very, very challenging for these tribunals.
The threat of it running through into next season may well be the reason why they have taken the time to ensure they get this decision absolutely spot on. Football has seen challenges it has never experienced because of Covid and this is, unfortunately, collateral damage in terms of Covid and the suspension of the season. It has obviously impacted heavily in terms of a decision.
It's unprecedented, it's certainly been very challenging for the football authorities to deal with all of these issues at the same time as the heavy burdens of obligation to get the sport up and running again. It’s challenging for the EFL and the clubs.
It's possible that the appeals tribunal could sit very quickly. We might have an appeal hearing in the next two weeks and therefore there might be a slight delay whilst an appeals panel sit.
There is a system that we saw in the Gina Miller case with the proroguing of Parliament. Within a week it went to the Supreme Court and it may well be that the EFL and the club may be able to piece together and appeals panel to sit very quickly and expedite the appeals hearing, but that would be a big, big challenge.
The timing is absolutely awful for these hearings to take place.