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A Rough Guide to the Judicial System

For many drivers, a trip through the judicial section of the Blue Book is a magical mystery tour, similar only to the workings of the human mind, or how the Birdie Song ever got to number 1. However there will be times when you’ll need a bit of knowledge, either when you’re on the receiving end of a penalty or when you wish to put your view on the driving standards of another. That’s where this rough guide comes in, although it should be said that nothing compensates for your own quick look through the relevant sections. The first time most of us find out something is wrong is during post race compliance checks. That normally kicks off with the scrutineers’ non-compliance form, which the entrant (for the under 18s) and the driver will fill in as well as the scrute and the clerk of the course. The bit the entrant fills in has a section where he or she either agrees or doesn’t that the component or kart does not comply with the regs. In most instances, drivers will fill in the ‘agree’ section, but if you are adamant the kart is OK then fill in the ‘do not agree’ bit if you plan to go to Eligibility Appeal (more on them later). At this stage it won’t make a huge difference as the eligibility scrutineer is a judge of fact who cannot exclude you, they will merely report the facts to the Clerk of the Course whose job it is to get it in the neck from competitors. The next step is for the Clerk to ask why the kart failed the eligibility checks. He or she is looking for your ‘get out of jail free’ card or some mitigation why exclusion is not an appropriate penalty. The regs now state that, upon receiving a certificate of noncompliance, the Clerk must exclude unless there are serious, mitigating circumstances. Take, for instance, a case of a TKM inlet trumpet missing as a result of the sidepod being savaged by another driver, the presence of said driver waiting to see the Clerk should see you away without a penalty being applied. This is a bit clearer than it was some years ago when you’d both have been penalised. At this juncture, it is normal to tell the driver that he or she isn’t considered to be cheating, especially if just half a kilo underweight, but that the kart doesn’t comply. It should also be said that the imposition of an exclusion or any other penalty won’t be recorded on your licence for a technical offence and you won’t get any points either. Championship coordinators have to be very careful when writing technical and sporting regs to ensure that justice can be seen to be done without overly penalising minor errors. A case in point is a well meaning paragraph in one of the ‘05 championship regulations stating any technical infringement would result in a loss of points for the whole meeting and the obligation to count a zero score. With no leeway for the Clerk to exercise judgement on the appropriate penalty, a driver who came in underweight could find himself with no points for the meeting. The full implications have been pointed out to the organisers who have promised something different for 2006.

At this point the Eligibility Appeal can come into play. Having ticked the ‘do not agree’ box on the non-compliance form, you may appeal directly to the MSA via the meeting’s Stewards. The fee for this is in Appendix Z of the Blue Book. Once at the MSA, the Eligibility Appeal Panel will consider all aspects and adjudicate accordingly on the evidence presented from both sides. These appeals have operated with varying degrees of success from the drivers’ point of view in recent times, with a recent edition of Motorsports Now! giving two differing decisions on what appear to be identical problems. However, there must have been fundamental differences for the decisions to have been so different. The majority of the cases a Clerk will deal with involve driving incidents and here’s where the fun really starts. Many incidents are merely errors of judgement, ‘racing incidents’, where two drivers aiming for the same square foot of tarmac collide and go out of the race or get delayed. There are very few incidents where one driver takes out another in order to be rid of the menace in front but they do occasionally happen. Normally, there will be a report from an observer or Clerk that can be acted upon with both parties in the office. If the drivers are under 18, a signed-on parent or guardian (don’t forget the letter of authority for the guardian if a parent isn’t present) will be present in the proceedings. This is to protect the young person’s interests but if daddy has a rant, it can have quite the opposite effect. New legislation that effectively placed a contract between the parent and the MSA has stopped some of the parental craziness occurring, but, with the onset of red mist, we are often looking at damage limitation. The Clerk will outline the case from the observer and ask for comments from the drivers. The Clerk will then determine if an offence has been committed and, if so, the appropriate penalty. Some clerks look at the licence before deciding on the penalty, I don’t. I prefer the surprise! From time to time, one hears calls for greater consistency in decision making. All well and good but there are just too many variables involved for that to realistically happen. For instance, Clerks and Stewards work generally from an MSA booklet giving suggested penalties for different offences. There is what is called the datum (or set standard) penalty, followed by a list of suggested alternatives depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Having heard all the evidence, the Clerk or Stewards will set off from the set penalty and determine whether any mitigating circumstances have been heard. This will reduce the penalty and mean less points on the all-important licence. On the flip side, any aggravating circumstances can end up in a fine as well as exclusion from the race or even the meeting. The Clerk’s decision will be communicated in writing and the driver will sign to receive the penalty, countersigned by an adult if the alleged offender is under 18. There will be occasions when, in the midst of a monumental six-way scrap for the lead, observers will miss an incident further back down the field. Aggrieved driver and dad are understandably miffed this has been missed. “After all, what are we paying you for?” is the general comment. Fair enough, but you can only see what you’re looking at and that’s generally the leaders as this is where most of the grief comes from. When Clerks and observers miss something, the onus is on the competitor to protest the other driver. It isn’t difficult to do and most Clerks will point you in the right direction, if you ask nicely. Start getting a bit stroppy and you’re basically on your own. The first thing you’ll need is a protest form. Contrary to popular belief, Clerks do not have a stash of these in their back pockets ready to dish out. The best person to ask will be the Competition Secretary or the MSA Steward, as both will have copies in the paperwork issued from the MSA. The Clerk will not. However, at the major national championships Clerks will probably have a supply somewhere, accrued over time.

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Despite what you may think, Clerks prefer to watch racing than doing paperwork

This reminds me of a tale of one entrant who would persistently ask for protest forms which always came to nothing. Rumour has it the driver was asked to give some of the protest forms back as the championship had run out! Once you have your form, you’ll need to know the fee as no pay, no play. Again, a schedule of fees can be found in Appendix Z of the Blue Book. With most national championships the meeting has National A status and the fee is clearly marked. For the rest the fee will be that for a meeting below National A but with an MSA Steward. On some very odd occasions, a split permit meeting is run, so it is as well to ask the status of the class you are running in. The wrong fee can see your protest rejected. Once you have your protest filled in, the fee sorted and some witnesses lined up, you can submit your protest. Read this next bit very carefully. You can submit the protest or appeal to the Secretary of the Meeting as well as the Clerk of the Course. You don’t have to disturb the Clerk from his work. Once the Clerk has been informed of the protest, a suitable time and venue for the hearing will be arranged with both parties and they will have the chance to call witnesses. The hearing is a little like an informal magistrates court, but the realisation has to be that getting information out of all the witnesses is vital, sometimes a gentle touch is required for younger competitors. Juniors who have been coached beforehand are instantly recognisable, purely from the language used and the phrasing of their evidence. One parent a couple of years ago rolled his eyes to the heavens when number one sprog recited chapter and verse what daddy had schooled him in but obviously forgot the bit about putting it in his own words. In the end it didn’t matter as more conventional evidence backed up the, “I was proceeding in a westerly direction” spiel and the protest succeeded. The general rule of thumb is that if you win the protest, you get the fee returned, lose and you don’t. If you win the protest but have been stroppy throughout the proceedings, don’t expect to see the money again. Incidentally, don’t put in protests just for the fun of it. I had occasion a few years ago to threaten reporting a parent to the Stewards for putting in protests in bad faith after about the third one against the same driver in the same meeting! Timescales are important and also subtly different. If you want to protest against another driver, you have 30 minutes after the race in question finishes. If you are unsure about the results, you have 30 minutes after the results are posted. The latter timescale also applies to grids. If you wish to protest another kart on technical grounds, make that intention known before the kart leaves parc ferme and the investigation can commence straight away. If you wait until the kart is released, you risk losing on the grounds that the alleged dodgy component may have been changed after scrutineering and the kart may not be ‘as raced’. Video evidence. The Clerk may use it if he sees fit and if the video is under the control of the organising club. If it comes from someone’s handheld video camcorder, the Clerk can opt not to use it. I agreed to view video evidence once, with the protestor convinced it would make their case. It didn’t and upset them mightily when the protest was rejected. Once the Clerk has made his decision, it will be communicated in writing to the protestor. This just means that the penalty has been received, not that the driver accepts that penalty and the time set down for the decision becomes important. The clock starts ticking for any appeal when the decision is set down and any arguing the aggrieved party might do just eats into that time.

The Clerk doesn’t want to start discussing his decision as he may have to justify the thought processes to the Stewards later in an appeal. Appeals can only be made by a person directly affected by the Clerk’s original decision and should be lodged within 30 minutes of that decision, third party protests and appeals are no longer permitted. These can be quite good fun or very frustrating, or sometimes even both depending on the circumstances. Some years ago I had a decision appealed to the Stewards of the Meeting and was allowed to sit in after giving my evidence. What I heard and what the Stewards heard were two completely different things. I was asked by the Stewards if I would have convicted based on the evidence of the appeal and I was bound to say no, so the appeal succeeded. However the original evidence was considerably different to the appeal evidence. A quick word on Stewards’ meetings etiquette. Don’t swear in front of the Stewards. Some of these venerable gentlemen are magistrates and won’t allow it in court, even if they’ve heard it all before, so you won’t get away with it at the track either. They also have the power to remove your licence for up to 30 days there and then and your involvement in the meeting ceases. You can forget about racing under appeal. Your money will be accepted for a shot at a tribunal but you still won’t turn a wheel again for a month. Tribunals are an entirely different animal and generally take place in the boardroom at Colnbrook, home of the MSA. I’ve only been to one tribunal, an appeal against the Stewards of the Meeting upholding my original decision. Opening arguments were heard from both MSA and competitor before I was invited to give my evidence as Clerk. After we’d finished, the deliberations took an age before the verdict was read out from the written statement (obviously where the time had gone). A fairly straightforward case took about three hours. That’s how thorough it is. One final point. The perception is that most Clerks get a kick out of doing paperwork and penalising people. I’ve worked with quite a few up and down the country who don’t have that view at all. In fact, we’d much prefer to stay out of the office and watch some decent racing and people enjoying their competition. However, if those same people step over the line, then we will take action as we see fit. At club level, I see our role as educating as much as legislating but, if the education isn’t working, then other tactics need to be employed. At championship level, a certain level of skill and knowledge from the driver is assumed, so the emphasis will be less on education and more on legislation. There it is, a quick walk through of the judicial system. Please take the time to read Section ‘O’ of the Blue Book, it can be your friend as much as your enemy and it’s always best to know your enemy.