25 Sep 2012

The rulebook’s there – apply it to Rangers

It’s come to something when a Scottish law lord has to convene a press conference to reassert his own independence.

What kind of country is it where this should ever be contemplated?

What kind of legal system?

What kind of city where this passes almost with so little comment?

The answers, of course, are Glasgow, Glasgow football law, and Glasgow media – where else could such things occur?

Last week former supreme court judge Lord Nimmo Smith put out a statement to assert the case for his own independence. It is taken as read in the UK that the judiciary is independent, it is the bedrock, the fundamental of our legal process across these islands.

Not in Glasgow football land.

Charged with ruling whether or not Rangers failed to declare player payments across the first decade or so, of this century, the judge said:

“It is well understood that a judge, or anyone performing a quasi-judicial function, must be free not only of actual bias, but also of apparent bias.

“Our commission has given careful consideration to this question and has concluded that the fair-minded observer would not conclude there would be any possibility that the chairman was biased.”


Since when did a very senior judge and two QCs feel the necessity to come before the media in Scotland and tell people this?

Of course, it excited much comment about how the judge was putting Rangers owner Charles Green back in his box.. .or that he was minded to treat the new Rangers as liable for the possible failings of the old company under Sir David Murray.

But relatively few people seemed to realise how astonishing it is – and worrying – that such a senior legal figure feels the need to buttress his own and his colleagues’ independence of mind.

The episode tells us much about how toxic things have become in the investigatory world surrounding Rangers, that any of this should be felt necessary at all.

Meanwhile all of this happens as news leaked out last week of the Scottish Premier League offering Rangers a deal to lose some trophies, even in advance of Lord Nimmo Smith’s independent commission doing its work. By dint of this deal, it could all be somehow made to go away, no?

Well, no.

Many a Rangers fan called it a witch-hunt, stitch-up and worse. And I sympathise because it absolutely implies – or states outright – a guilty verdict without any such verdict being sought through due process and the diligence of the Nimmo Smith commission.

In that sense the Ibrox faithful are utterly entitled to feel aggrieved, Scottish Football League voices and many others, equally right in saying this goes against the fundamental of justice that you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Then again, such is the almost genuis quality of this, that Celtic and other fans are also worth listening to when they say it’s yet another attempt to cut Rangers a favourable deal and ignore the rule-book. Once again the SPL team have managed to unite the irreconcilable, for different reasons.

That can’t be helped, says the SPL. Nothing on the record but they say it was Rangers who wanted a solution.

The SPL basically told Rangers there’s a take-it-or-leave-it deal where you admit your guilt and lose some trophies – or you leave it and end up with Lord Nimmo Smith.

Of course, Rangers might be innocent and the gamble works. Or they might end up getting whacked with a major double-whammy: guilty as charged by Nimmo Smith with the added “contempt” of refusing to co-operate with the judge, which is Rangers current position.

We know there’s “a stack of evidence” and we know “there’s a case to answer”. Would you bet the farm on this as Rangers owner Charles Green seems hell-bent on doing?

Equally, many are saying again – what is it with the Scottish Premier League?

Why, at every opportunity, does this body seek to ignore the due process of investigation and try for a deal which ends up alienating all sides?

The absurd failed attempt to parachute Rangers into some bonkers two-tier newfangled achieved the historic miracle of uniting Rangers fans with Celtic and all others in disgust (yes I know, everyone had various reasons that time too…), and it also brought the SPL into deep disrepute and rightly so.

Now, a few short weeks later, they are at it again. Setting Lord Nimmo Smith to work in November on the one hand, whilst clearly attempting a plea bargain on the quiet.

Not for the first time, fans of all colours  question  whether such a body is fit to do the job it is charged with.

Nimmo Smith and the QCs is not the name of an up and coming band, it is the outfit charged with finally ending the long and messy investigation into whether or not Rangers FC cheated for over a decade on player payments. The lord and his band should be allowed to do their work swiftly and effectively in peace, and the SPL must implement their verdict with equal, unflinching efficiency, innocent or guilty.

Anybody wanting short-cut deals, five-way negotiations and two-tier parachutes should be offered medication by Hampden Park then shown the door in future.

The rulebook’s there – simply apply it without fear or favour.

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