Blog: All we want is fairness!

I haven’t written a blog in a while, but yesterday’s outcome of the James Goodman prohibited substance case in which NHA attorney Jonathan Witts-Hewinson was all but officially reprimanded by a High Court Judge for his conduct and behaviour calls for comment.

In my almost 30 years as a licensed trainer I have experienced the high-handed attitude of people like Witts-Hewinson and other NHA lawyers and stewards several times in my own medication charges.  Of late, we’ve even had to deal with Racing Control Executives who attempt to influence the results and  the penalties imposed by Inquiry Boards even before they’ve actually taken place, or before the process of inquiry has taken its due course.  In essence, you are as good as guilty before you walk into the inquiry room!

My own horses have been tested for substances around the world, in perhaps ten countries, and wherever I have gone I have experienced the perception that trainers are dishonest individuals or “dope artists” who couldn’t care less for the animal or the sport.

Jonathan Witts-Hewinson.

Jonathan Witts-Hewinson.

This is public perception stoked over many years by bad media reports that emanate from respective racing authorities who are all too eager to make themselves look good and to justify their existence at the expense of the reputation of trainers and jockeys and, ultimately, at the expense of the industry.

 Just recently, for example, Australia’s chief stipe Terry Bailey, his country’s self-proclaimed one-man mission into “cleaning up racing”, was castigated in the press for dishonest, self-serving conduct. (Links below this article).

In my view, 99% of trainers are honest horsemen with no drug agendas. But to err is human. We, they, all make mistakes. I presently have 170 horses in my own yard, among them are sick horses and sore horses who need treatment and medication. There is always a chance of slipping, and invariably charges result from veterinary errors.

However, by NHA rules, which the majority of trainers don’t agree with as they are, all the NHA has to do is to prove that the accused party is the trainer of the horse in which a positive sample was found. By virtue of the fact that he or she is a licensed trainer, such trainer is guilty. Period.  Until now, we have been unable to do anything about it. We’ve signed under duress to accept archaic, draconian rules. We’ve had no choice but to give Witts-Hewinson and company the right to treat us in an arbitrary manner!

In the case of James Goodman, it is commonly known that the prohibited substance, caffeine, is found in certain feeds and therefore contamination is a real issue with this particular substance. I am not fully aware of the facts, but if James’ expert witness, Dr Tobin, had been allowed to testify and interview Dr Schalk de Kock, who knows what would have emerged. Goodman may just have won his case on pure factual merits alone. But this is something Mr Witts-Hewinson refused to allow in a way that was unconstitutional and as the judge pointed out, “manifestly procedurally unfair”.

There are major costs involved for the NHA and its opposing parties in every case brought before them – a number of cases are driven to their limits of time by greedy lawyers and on both sides. How about a plea-bargain system when guilt is accepted, the mitigating factors considered and agreed fines paid on the spot to prevent cases from dragging on for years?

I can only hope that the NHA, under the refreshing leadership of Lyndon Barends, will not only take appropriate action against their lawmen involved, but will institute significant, constitutionally aligned changes in the interest of fairness. Fairness is all we want!

Attorney Robert Bloomberg, writing about the Goodman case, takes the rest of this blog with a piece of exceptional writing, succinctly commenting on what has transpired and what needs to be done.

“The chickens have finally come home to roost!

“For decades, and whilst serving as a Director on the Board of the National Horseracing Authority (“NHA”) and previously as Chairman, Jonathan Witts-Hewinson has been in the forefront of legal matters being a practising attorney. During his tenure, he happily supported the debatable expertise and dubious advices of NHA attorney, Nic Roodt. They have previously run roughshod over many in dictatorial fashion whilst on occasion hiding behind numerous manifestly unfair Rules that ordinarily would not pass muster at the Constitutional Court.

“In my opinion, he has always viewed the NHA as tantamount to a private boy’s club and pretty much believed that they, the NHA, were untouchable as the supreme authority in horseracing. This was particularly prevalent in the Rob de Kock and Denzil Pillay era. There have been many instances in the past and in recent times where the “reasonable man” test in respect of perceived bias and subsequent recusal in relevant instances has been flagrantly ignored by him and the NHA. Thanks to the tenacity of James Goodman and despite the financial consequences, their conduct was finally challenged.

In addition, we can also no longer tolerate undue influence and pressure being brought to bear by the Racing Control Executive on NHA legal representatives and personally hand-picked Inquiry Boards in advance of hearings particularly in regard to recommended penalties. There cannot be seen to be interference in the judicial process as this amounts to exactly what has transpired herein.

“This is a watershed moment in the industry as this cannot happen again and must lead to independent Inquiry and Review Boards in the future. This judgment is an acute embarrassment and a serious indictment on both Witts-Hewinson and the NHA. For a judge to say that the “potentially conflicting” positions occupied by Witts-Hewinson was “unassailable” and that “proceedings conducted by him were manifestly procedurally unfair” and that “there was no structure whatsoever to the proceedings” and further that when Goodman’s expert witness, Professor Tobin, “testified he was denied the opportunity of questioning the specialist chemist (Schalk De Kock) employed by the NHA” is about as bad as it gets.

“We don’t care if he falls on his own sword, or the NHA ceases to utilize his services, but certainly as legal representative for the National Trainers Representative Body, we will no longer recognize or accept Witts-Hewinson in any capacity should he continue to serve on the panel of the NHA Inquiry Board, Appeal Board and Inquiry Review Boards.”