In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RWC Part III - Courtney Lawes and Quade Cooper.

Courtney Lawes was cited and got a two match ban for THIS offence.

Quade Cooper was cited and was cleared for THIS offence.

Now, I would love to look at the two, discuss the decisions, the differences between them, how they measure up (on which Graham Henry certainly has opinions) and whether there are any legal or rugby-playing ramifications from it.

Except I can't; because the decisions aren't available to the public.

Which, bluntly, is just not good enough. And what I'd like to discuss in this post is why.

The general public are not allowed to see the decisions - or, indeed, the amended Disciplinary Regulations under which these decisions are made. It's the same for test rugby generally.

Why? Why can we see the decisions from the ERC, yet not the RWC?

This is not an abstract complaint. It's about the nature of certainty and consistency in decision-making. One of the most fundamental rules in fair procedure in decision-making is; the decision-maker must give his reasons. And it's not just for that decision; it's because if a decision is wildly out of kilter with all the other decisions on that point, it stands out as being inconsistent, and it instantly comes under scrutiny.

This is a good thing. It's vital, in fact. And the reason is; someone who knows they're going to have to stand over what they say is more likely to get their decision right. That's what accountability means. It also means that anyone advising people as to what the law in an area is, can tell them what it is based on the decisions already made - the precedents.

The ERC - to their credit - are on the money in this one. They have their decisions available on their website as soon as possible (although they, too, don't make their disciplinary rules generally available). Those decisions may well not be perfect, but at least you can see them, read them, analyse them and see what the patterns that constitute the precedents in rugby law are. The ERC cites its own decisions on these points, and those of other jurisdictions like the RFU who do the same. The result is a coherent, emerging, predictable body of rugby disciplinary law. There is certainty, and clarity and consistency, and inconsistent decisions stand out and have to be justified.

By contrast, discipline at test level is a closed box. The citing is made; the decision comes out; and we poor mortals are not privy to the reasoning. No-one can tell if the same rules are being followed at test level. More and more fans suspect that they're not. People get frustrated. It's almost impossible to say what will or will not happen in a citing because there's no precedent off which to work. It's riddled with inconsistencies that can't be squared because the reason why two similar-looking offences give different results are never made available. It's opaque, uncertain, and inconsistent. It doesn't work.

And the result is; those who are, in that great Aussie phrase, rugby tragics look on the disciplinary system with an eye not so much jaundiced as canary yellow (or, if you're a fan of the Twelfth Man, Aussie gold...). When, in the middle of a Rugby World Cup, we are asked by casual fans showing interest in the biggest rugby showcase why two similar-ish offences get different treatment, we can't answer. If we could, if we could look at the decisions and explain, we could be ambassadors for the game. Instead, we end up being sceptical, or even cynical, about the game we love. And that ever before we get onto the issue of perceptions of bias, or inconsistency, and the potential legal ramifications.

If a decision has been made at test level, then it's one that should be able to stand on its own merits under public scrutiny, just as it does at ERC level. The advice to the IRB would be; publish - and be absolved.

Update: after much digging - and it really is around the houses of the RWC site - I've been able to find the decisions from the RWC, so I'll absolve them of fault here. The Lawes one is HERE. Still looking for the Cooper decision to make the contrast.

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