SPORTS LAWYER David Winnie insists the pressure on the Scottish FA’s independent panel will be suffocating after Hearts and Partick Thistle’s battle with the SPFL was kicked to arbitration.
Both parties will be able to choose one member to oversee the case from a pre-approved list of experienced legal minds. Those two individuals will then agree on a third person to chair the panel.
Although the case will not be heard in open court, the demands of Hearts and Partick remain unaltered – for their relegations to be quashed or, alternatively, a combined £10 million payout.
And former Jambos defender Winnie, now a solicitor with London firm Charles Douglas Solicitors, says those charged with making the decision will be acutely aware of the impact their verdict will have on the game.
Winnie said: “There is a real burden on the shoulders of the three panel-members. There is so much riding on this.
“They will be used to look at cases that are more traditional football matters – nothing that would come even close to this.
“We are talking about something that will shape Scottish football for years to come and affect livelihoods.
“If the panel is minded to grant compensation, instead of quashing relegations, where does the money come from? It has massive ramifications.
“Even reinstatement would be catastrophic for Dundee United and the other promoted sides.”
And Winnie believes embarking on an arbitration process rather than a courtroom drama will do little assuage the bad feeling between the respective parties.
He continued: “It is going to cause so much bad blood.
“For this to have gone to the Court of Session and now arbitration, the rancour which has been generated is massive and I’m not sure how you get past that. It’s open warfare.”
Despite that assertion, Winnie remains adamant that Hearts and Thistle are well within their rights not to back down – despite the damage he has acknowledged a ruling in their favour could do.
He contends they have been left with no choice but to fight their corner.
He added: “I think they were entitled to pursue this course of action. Any other clubs in the same position as these clubs would have done the same thing because the potential losses to both clubs are potentially astronomical.
“There is no rulebook that covers a global pandemic. We are all in uncharted waters and clubs are looking to save themselves. With that in mind, Hearts and Thistle have been left with little choice.
“So I’ve every sympathy for their predicament – but it will make them no friends.”
Winnie, meanwhile, has predicted that Lord Clark’s decision to grant Hearts and Partick Thistle full discovery of all documents will prove pivotal.
That will force the SPFL to give access to paperwork surrounding the contentious vote to end the Scottish football campaign for all leagues below the Premiership on April 15.
Winnie added: “If we are going to get a truly fair and proper arbitration which meets the standards of evidence which would have been set in the Court of Session, that was a MUST.
“That order from Lord Clark was essential because, without that, the whole process becomes a bit hit-and-miss. Now, Hearts and Partick suspect something is not being disclosed, then they can march straight back to the Court of Session.”