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Mew decides to dismiss the appeal of the IRB - Horwill cleared to play

The Lions have lost their captain to injury, but the Wallabies still have theirs following the 2 July decision by Graeme Mew of 4 New Square to dismiss the International Rugby Board’s (“IRB’s”) appeal against an earlier decision of the New Zealand Judicial Officer, Nigel Hampton QC finding James Horwill not guilty of foul play1.

Hampton’s decision related to an incident which took place in the third minute of Australia’s 23-21 defeat in the first Test in Brisbane when Horwill stood on Alun Wyn-Jones’ head, which required the Lions’ forward to have stiches in a wound above his eye. To watch a video clip of the incident, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2I8Fpk7FpQ

Hampton accepted Horwill’s defence that he had been knocked off balance and had unwittingly hit Jones’ head with his boot: see the decision at https://www.irb.com/mm/document/tournament/home/02/06/80/23/horwill-decision.pdf

Hampton’s verdict on 23 June 2013 was widely criticised and the IRB subsequently confirmed, prior to the second Test, that it would be appealing the decision.  Horwill was allowed to play in the second Test but whether he would lead out the Wallabies in the third (and now deciding) Test rested in the hands of Graeme Mew, the Appeals Officer.

As Graeme Mew explained in dismissing the appeal, the IRB would have had to establish that “there was some misapprehension of law or principle by the judicial officer or that his decision was so clearly wrong or manifestly unreasonable that no judicial officer could have reached the conclusion that he did”.  The IRB did not establish either and Mr Mew held that there was “sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable judicial officer could have reached the conclusion that he did”.

Mr Mew also said that the IRB had been right to appeal in their role as promoters of player welfare and protectors of the image of the game, something the governing body said was a major reason for making the appeal.

The IRB’s decision to appeal Horwill’s ‘not guilty’ verdict was unprecedented.  The IRB’s power of appeal came into the regulations last June and was used for the first time last November when New Zealand’s Adam Thomson was banned for one week after being found guilty of stamping on a Scottish player’s head during a Test at Murrayfield.  In that case the Judicial Officer decided that the offence warranted a two week ban but reduced it by half as a result of good conduct displayed by Thomson during the hearing.  The IRB appealed and the two week ban was restored. 

Horwill has been reported in the media as thanking both Graeme Mew and Nigel Hampton for “hosting very fair and independent hearings”, and adding, to the inevitable concerns of the Lions’ fans, “Now it is time to get on with the [rugby]”.

4 New Square has a sports law team and is widely recognised and regarded for offering expertise in the field of sports law – both in sports disciplinary law and commercial sporting disputes.



1 Horwill was cited under Law 10.4b of the IRB’s disciplinary rules, which states “a player must not stamp or trample on an opponent”.

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