The Anderson/Jadeja spat: why we should value the disciplinary process in sport

Published 04 September 2014 | Authored by: Alex Odell

In this blog, Alex Odell reflects, in the context of the recent high-profile row between James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja, on why we should not underestimate the value of disciplinary process in sport.


The altercation

The altercation between Anderson and Jadeja has attracted a lot of media attention, with former umpire James Holder commenting that Anderson was “extremely lucky” to avoid punishment.1

Both Anderson and Jadeja were, ultimately, found not guilty of their respective misconduct charges by an independent Judicial Commissioner2. Anderson’s case was one of self-defence, with Anderson insisting that he was responding to a threatening approach by Jadeja, and admitting that he swore at and pushed him.


The differing responses

This spat generally provoked two kinds of response.

The first, usually from a well-oiled England fan, is that Jadeja should have ‘manned up’ and that nothing should have of come of the altercation. This point of view often includes an assertion that somehow the disciplinary process was ridiculous or unnecessary.

The second is that the incident was not taken seriously enough, and that Anderson was lucky to escape any punishment. This point of view also implicitly criticises the disciplinary process.

It is worth considering the consequences of each point of view.

Ignore the matter

The first involves considering the push as part of the game, as happens commonly on the field in football, and therefore ignoring it. However sport, and cricket in particular, generally does not accept off-field contact in the way it would on-field contact. It is therefore unsurprising, given Jadeja’s allegations, that some action was taken.

Prosecute in the courts

The second, at the other end of the spectrum of responses, would have been to engage the criminal justice system, and for Jadeja to make a police complaint of common assault under s.39 of the Criminal Justice Act 19883, which is triable only in the Magistrates’ Court and is the lowest category of assault in terms of seriousness. There is no ‘de minimis’ rule with such allegations. A push can certainly constitute an assault. There is a legal defence of self-defence, but such actions must be reasonable. There would be no need to show any injury or impact on Jadeja.

Had Anderson been found guilty, the spontaneous and temporary nature of the push would place the offence into the lowest category of the sentencing guidelines. Anderson would therefore have faced anything from a conditional discharge to a fine at most4. The process would have taken months.

The issue of proof

At this stage it is worthwhile correcting a misconception that has arisen in the reporting of the Anderson/Jadeja spat. It has been reported that, in the absence of CCTV, there was no ‘proof’ of what happened. Of course, it is possible to prove common assault without independent evidence such as CCTV. In fact, it happens across the country everyday in domestic violence cases. Common assault prosecutions rarely involve CCTV and yet convictions are still achieved, such as in the cases of football players like Andy Carroll5, Nile Ranger6 and Charlie Austin7.

What happened in the Anderson/Jadeja hearing was that the Judicial Commissioner could not be sure to the relevant standard of proof, based on the conflicting evidence he heard, but the oral evidence of those present was still heard and tested in the absence of CCTV. It was potentially capable of underpinning a finding against Anderson. 

No-one, not even the BCCI, wanted a criminal process to be launched, even though the allegation was capable of being reported to the police. Reputational concerns for cricket may have played a part in this, given the perception of bad behaviour flowing from a criminal conviction, which might even affect sponsorships.


The perfect compromise

So, there was a perfect compromise: the disciplinary process.

It was quick (three weeks). It was, despite references in the press to the involvement of leading lawyers, relatively cheap, particularly when compared to a criminal prosecution. It was also confidential.

Of course, there are imperfections in the disciplinary process. The standard of proof required varies across a sliding scale, according to the seriousness of the alleged offence. Judicial commissioners are not bound by formal rules of evidence and have a potentially wide discretion in deciding what evidence can be relied upon. 

Given the alternatives, however, this was a triumph for the disciplinary system, ensuring that sporting disputes are resolved quickly and effectively.


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About the Author

Alex Odell

Alex Odell

Alex is a barrister at Peters & Peters Solicitors, specialising in business crime, extradition, corruption and sports law. He is part of the P&P Sports Disputes and Investigations team. Prior to joining P&P, Alex was a tenant at the leading criminal set Five Paper Buildings. He has extensive experience of sports law in the context of criminal litigation, having prosecuted cases involving the illicit broadcasting of premier league football for many years.

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