The FIA Court of Appeal

The FIA International Court of Appeal meets today in Paris and its deliberations over British American Racing will be watched closely by the Formula 1 world.

The court comprises of 18 titular members of different nationalities and 18 deputy members of the same nationalities as the titular members. Logically, therefore, one of the judges from each country should appear once every four or five Courts of Appeal, allowing for the fact that there are usually four judges and that members from countries involved in a dispute may never sit in judgement on that dispute.

However, the system works in a rather different way. We have tracked down a total of 15 Courts of Appeal in the last three years which have considered a total of 16 cases. There may have been others but the list on the FIA website is incomplete. From this it is clear that one titular member of the court - Vassilis Koussis of Greece - has been a judge on 12 of the 15 occasions when the court has met. Ireland's Reginald Redmond has been involved nine times; Spain's Xavier Conesa eight and Portugal's Jose Macedo e Cunha has popped up on six occasions. Thus of the 72 available seats (allowing for the normal four judges per case) the four men have filled the roles on 35 occasions.

Some of the other titular members and their deputies have failed to appear even once in three years and, while it is understandable that judges may not be able to come from Argentina, Australia and Brazil, it is not logical that such nations should be represented when they never show up.

The attendance records are not very different to those from 10 years ago, with many of the same names appearing over and over again. Over the years this has led to suggestions that the court is not truly independent. This is something the FIA gets rather upset about.

That point was made in September 2000 when the Williams and McLaren teams wrote to the European Commission asking for the Competition Directorate to examine the activities of the FIA Court of Appeal. In order to get clearance from the European Union the FIA did have to make changes to the International Sporting Code, notably making the court more transparent.

More significantly, however, the EU settlement states that "FIA submissions have confirmed the availability of legal challenge against FIA decisions both within the FIA structure and before national courts. Access to external independent appeals has been guaranteed in the FIA rules. As mentioned above, the FIA has agreed to insert a new clause clarifying that anyone who is subject to FIA decisions can challenge them before the national courts."

In other words, what happens at the Court of Appeal today may not be the end of the story.

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