Off the Wall

The claim and counter claim this week following the charging of Johnathan Thurston has not done the game any real favours.

I don't believe the match review head, Greg McCallum, has any bias against the Maroons - though he may have a "bias" in favour of referees, given that he is a former top referee himself.

The point about his referral of Thurston - with a high grading - for his collision with a referee in the Cowboys game in Saturday night - is that a proper judiciary system would not have put him in the position he was in.

Under the rules he was entitled to refer the incident to the judiciary, but he had to attach a "grading" to it...and that effectively tied the hands of the judiciary, and the Cowboys.

Why not just trust the judiciary to handle the case without a "grading"...which is really only the view of one, or perhaps two, officials?

These days comparatively few players are reported by the referee, or the review panel.

It would not be at all difficult to return the judiciary process to the way it was before the Super League war - every player who was sent off or referred could take their case to the judiciary, without the threat of what is effectively an added penalty if they plead not guilty and lose.

The system worked well. When there was an outbreak of quite violent incidents, the judiciary imposed the toughest suspensions in the game's history. And it worked!

And the judiciary panel itself needs to be representative. A panel comprising only former players was introduced as a PR stunt by Super League.

The modern, transparent game needs a judiciary panel headed by a respected judge or lawyer, with two or three "lay" members - perhaps one former player, a respected former official, and perhaps "John or Joan Citizen".

The current process where the Judiciary Chairman (a District Court Judge) has no say in the actual verdict is hopeless. He is the one person who is consistently on the judiciary panel, but does not have a say in the verdict.

For generations the judiciary system worked in an open and robust way. It basically served the game well. It has some flaws, but they could have been rectified without the introduction of the current system which, in my view, is far too structured, and in some respects contrary to the principles of natural justice.

I served on the judiciary for the Port Moresby Rugby League for several years - the Chairman was a wonderful Papua New Guinean, Francis Iramu, who was also the Chief Magistrate of PNG. The third panel member was a former player.

I recall when we heard a "life" case - one for which the penalty could be a life suspension - when we decided the player was guilty of king hitting a referee, we agreed on a 10 year ban. Magistrate Iramu, noting that the player had a couple of dozen teammates/villagers waiting outside with him, offered the suggestion - "we might dwell more over this one and send our decision out in the mail!"

That we did - and we still imposed a 10 year ban - but we got home safely that night!

The task of the judiciary today has been made somewhat easier by access to video replays, camera stills, audio evidence and more.

The audio evidence last night was clearly in Thurston's favour.

But this hearing, and any number of others where the "grading" apportioned by the review panel, would have been much more transparent, and less controversial, if the judiciary operated without its hands being tied behind its back.

If we ever get an independent commission to run the game, it should ask clubs, players, referees, and fans this simple question - do we want a judiciary that allows a charged player to take his chance before the judiciary, without what is effectively an added penalty threat if he does so?

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