Recourse to the FIA Tribunals is regularly proposed (or ogled) when a sports dispute becomes particularly thorny. The most recent and obvious case was the penalty imposed on Sebastian Vettel at the Canadian GP. Commentators and general public have loudly called for the intervention of the highest bodies of the Federation, while ignoring its functioning. At the time, we did our due diligence. Today we propose an in-depth analysis: how do the FIA courts work? But, most importantly: do they respect the criteria of fairness and impartiality that should characterize any jurisdiction?
Role and function FIA Tribunals
Let’s start with the basics: the FIA courts are divided into the International Tribunal (IT) and the International Court of Appeal (ICA). The IT is the court of first instance on matters that are not subject to a stewards’ decision: usually, breaches of the Code of Ethics or acts that otherwise damage the reputation of the Federation. The ICA, on the other hand, is responsible for deciding on appeals against stewards’ decisions in the FIA World Championships and, of course, against first instance IT decisions.
As a preamble to the entire Judicial and Disciplinary Regulations, the independence and autonomy of these bodies from the structure and policy of the Federation is immediately stressed. But is this really the case?
The FIA courts are a peculiar hybrid of different jurisdictional models. They are not real sports courts, because they do not recognise a second controlling sports jurisdiction like the CAS. Nor can we speak of disciplinary commissions, such as FIFA, because their composition and function make the FIA courts more complex bodies. They are not even arbitration tribunals, because there is a prosecuting component. This is precisely what confronts us with the first problem.
In the jurisdictional system in question, the prosecuting function is entrusted to the FIA, in the person of the President or his deputies. However, the FIA does not just investigate and present the facts. At the same time, the FIA may be an offended or accused party. It may decide, at its sole discretion, to grant disciplinary immunity to the other parties to the proceedings. The FIA, in agreement with the other parties, may decide to dispense entirely the compliance with the Judicial and Disciplinary Regulations in a given proceeding. All these powers, including the difficulty itself to have access to jurisdiction for parties other than FIA, raise a number of concerns.
Is this true justice?
In other words, can we trust the impartiality of the decisions taken by the FIA? It would be too presumptuous to give an arbitrary answer to this question. As an aspiring jurist, I rely on the letter of the European Charter of Human Rights. Article 6 sets out the guiding criteria for verifying the impartiality of any judicial system.
- Right of recourse to a national court (with all the guarantees that derive from it): this parameter is respected. The decisions of last resort of the FIA courts (i.e. those of the ICA) can be challenged before the French Tribunal de Grande Instance.
- Right to an impartial and independent panel: the judges of the panel are chosen by the President of the Tribunal. However, the President of the Tribunal is elected by the FIA Congress under the aegis of its President. This President is in turn is both an investigator and an offended or accused party in the proceedings. Doubts about the impartiality and independence of the Court would be justified.
- Right to a fair trial: parameter that includes right of review and adversarial parties. The first is certainly respected (the right of review is expressly provided for), on the second you advance the same doubts dictated by the very strong interference of the FIA in the proceedings.
- Right to a public hearing and a quick decision: both of these criteria can be considered met by express regulatory provisions.
Conclusions FIA Tribunals
Overall, we can say that the FIA courts can be considered as sufficiently fair jurisdictions. Reasonable doubts remain about the very strong influence, also of a political nature, exerted by the governing bodies of the Federation. However, we have seen how extreme the media pressure on these proceedings is: it is difficult, under these conditions, to think that the fate of FIA sporting decisions is left to the mercy of “behind-the-scenes” consultations.
An Italian version of this article is available at the link below.