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Interim Chair

NZ Harness Trainers & Drivers Assn
Published by Pete Cook in News · 15 August 2019
Following the resignation of Rob Lawson, it has been decided to appoint Gordon Lee to the position of ‘Interim Chair’ of the National Council, for the current season. As you may know, Gordon is no stranger to the workings and goals of the Association, having been, for many years, the Otago/Southland representative on the Council, until standing down from that position last year, to be replaced by Geoff Knight.

The Association has received a copy of the Special Review of the RIU and JCA and, as a result of examining its’ contents, the National Council has forwarded a submission on certain aspects of the review. While the general thrust of the report by Malcolm Burgess is commendable, particularly the criticisms of the current operations of the RIU, the Association vehemently disagrees with the proposal to exclude JCA panels from race day hearings. The following is part of the submission outlining our concerns:

‘The report states- “When compared to the process in overseas jurisdictions where charges are determined by the stewards, the JCA race day function is considered inefficient.”  We question that observation.  – From a time taking perspective that may be correct, however it does not take into consideration the aspects of Natural Justice and right to a fair hearing. A number of our members compete in Australia for instance, where the stewards determine charges and penalties. The prognosis is that if called in – you are guilty. There is not the presumption of innocence in the first instance.  It was a system that we used to employ, and to a member, The New Zealand participants prefer the RIU/JCA system we have. Even though the figures illustrate that 92% acknowledge charges, are we prepared to give away the other 8% for the sake of “efficiency”.  It is highly likely that those who plead not guilty will, under a RIU only on race day system, be found guilty, and have to appeal. As we know the Appeal system is a costly and stressful exercise, not to mention highly litigious given that lawyers can be involved, and we would argue in many ways inefficient.

The other aspect of this is the Horse protest rules, which under the system proposed would be determined solely by the RIU Stewards - might we add, without any possibility of recourse- the decision will be final. To explain that further if a relegation or disqualification of a horse has to occur based on a racing incident – it has to be determined immediately. The RIU will be the sole adjudicator of that decision. At least under the current system the effected parties get a chance to put their case to an Independent neutral party. This is surely fairer, and given that there is no recourse, most surely a better system.

The dynamic of the investigation will change completely. All of the power will be with the Stewards, and the participant will be a part bit player. Under the current system the very vast majority of participants at least feel that they have had a fair hearing, and that a natural justice process has at least been undertaken.   
The second suggestion relating to this is to have any defended charges against horse people deferred to a day later in the week. This may make the JCA system more efficient from their perspective, but it will not as far as the horse people are concerned. Horse people will then have to attend (no doubt at a Metropolitan location) during a week when they may we required to work. (bear in mind many have second or third jobs).  There is an obvious cost then to the participant and there may also be issues getting the appropriate witnesses to attend the hearings as well. So the cost moves from the JCA to the participant. That does not make the overall system more efficient.  There may be consideration of a “bunker” type system (similar to the NRL). One would assume that this would be “live” on the day of racing. We still consider this to be a compromise that will reduce the effectiveness and integrity of the current system.

The other major consideration is that under the current system, we have much more “consistency in decision and penalty“ than previously (under the RIU have total decision making system). Consistency of penalties in particular is a cornerstone of effective judicial systems.’

It appears that the move to have the RIU acting as ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ on race-days is being driven by officials in the Thoroughbred code, notably trainers, along with the RIU management. Almost all race-day hearings involve either jockeys or drivers and, in our experience, jockeys are very much second class citizens, when it comes to any democratic process in their Code. In the harness code, things are very different, as the majority of drivers are also trainers themselves. We consider the acceptance of this major change in the Judicial system would be a massive step backwards for the entire industry.

Pete Cook

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