THE aggregate score between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and world football’s governing body FIFA now stands at 1-1.
As of yesterday evening, FIFA was back on level terms with the TTFA after the Appeal Court ruled in its favour in a legal challenge mounted against a previous High Court decision in which the TTFA had at first emerged victorious.
With the latest ruling, FIFA now has the all-clear to retake control of the cash-strapped TTFA and reintroduce a normalisation committee after Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice of Appeal Nolan Bereaux quashed a preliminary ruling handed down by Justice Carol Gobin.
But the Appeal Court ruling is not final unless the TTFA decides it will not be pursuing the issue further to the Privy Council in London, England. If on the other hand it decides to take the proceedings to this country’s final Court of Appeal, then the British Law Lords will have the final say in the dispute.
The issue that was in contention was the ruling of Justice Gobin who held on August 13, that the local courts had the jurisdiction to hear the challenge mounted by embattled TTFA president William Wallace and his United TTFA executive.
A decision had been made by FIFA on March 17 to replace the executive on with a normalisation committee headed by businessman Robert Hadad due to the executive’s mismanagement of funds and consequently finding itself to be millions of dollars in debt.
On the day of her preliminary ruling, Justice Gobin denied an application by FIFA to have the proceedings struck out. She also refused another application to stay the proceedings pending the hearing of FIFA’s appeal against her decision.
FIFA argued that, the only place such a dispute could have been heard was at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Switzerland. But Justice Gobin disagreed.
In her final ruling delivered on the night of October 13, Justice Gobin found that the replacement of the executive with the normalisation committee was made in bad faith and for an improper and illegal motive. Even though the latter ruling was not appealed, it automatically fell by the wayside after Justices Archie and Bereaux found that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the matter in the first place.
During a virtual hearing yesterday, the Chief Justice summarised the 23-page judgment written by Justice Bereaux. He said they both agreed that Wallace and United TTFA acted in contravention of the TTFA’s Constitution by which it is bound by bringing the proceedings in the local court.
“The filing of these proceedings was a breach of Article 67 of TTFA’s Constitution by which the TTFA is bound. We are of the view that Article 67 is unambiguous and any appeal against a final and binding finding passed by FIFA must be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” said Archie.
Therefore, the Chief Justice said the filing of the proceedings was null, void and of no effect and must be struck out. The judges also held that Justice Gobin was plainly wrong in refusing to stay the proceedings in favour of arbitration before the CAS.
“We find that FIFA has met the threshold requirements to trigger the court’s discretion under section 7 of the Arbitration Act. It therefore satisfied that there was no reason why the matter should not have been referred to arbitration and that FIFA was ready, willing and able to conduct the arbitration,” he stated.
Additionally, Archie and Bereaux agreed that the service of the proceedings by the TTFA on FIFA by way of e-mail was a breach of the laws of Switzerland and that it was also a breach of Part 7.8(2) of the Civil Proceedings Rules (CPR).
“Due regard and respect must be paid, as a matter comity, for the laws of other nations. A court is committed to uphold the rule of law and cannot give effect or be seen to give effect, to a form of service of process which is unlawful under the law of another country in which the proceedings have been served.
“If the proceedings are to have effect in Trinidad and Tobago, they must not be tainted by illegality, especially an illegality in the country of one of the parties to the dispute who will be expected to observe any order which the Trinidad and Tobago court makes,” Archie said.
If losing the legal claim was not enough, the TTFA was also ordered to pay the legal cost incurred by FIFA in bringing the application at the High Court as well as the cost of the appeal.
TTFA was represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Jason Jones and Crystal Paul, while Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie appeared on behalf of FIFA.