Administrative law – Horse racing – Judicial review – Administrative decisions – Natural justice – Bias – Familiarity – Jurisdiction – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness
Greenwood v. Alberta (Appeals Tribunal),  A.J. No. 471, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, April 15, 2003, Belzil J.
The Applicant was a trainer of a thoroughbred horse that competed in a race at Northlands Park in Edmonton. The Applicant’s horse finished second; however, it appeared to the Applicant that the first place horse had interfered with his horse during the final stretch. Rules governing horse racing in Alberta are made pursuant to section 22 of the Horse Racing Alberta Act, R.S.A. 2000, c.H-11.3 (the “Act”). The rules require that the claim of foul be made to the Stewards Board before the result of the race is declared official. The claim was made and the stewards declared that the claim of foul would be disallowed. The applicant appealed to the Appeal Tribunal which concluded that there was no foul.
The Applicant applied for a judicial review before the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. The court held that the standard of review was that of patent unreasonableness in spite of the fact that there was no privative clause. This was based on the fact that the Appeal Tribunal had a great deal of expertise and that the question was one of fact and not law. The court held that the decision of the Appeal Tribunal was not irrational on its face and that it was in accordance with reason.
The court reviewed the transcript and noted that the Applicant was represented at the hearing by legal counsel and that the hearing at the Appeal Tribunal should not be likened to a court proceeding. The formal rules of evidence at the hearing could not and should not be equated with that of a formal court proceeding. Under the Act, there is no obligation that the members understand the detailed legal rules of evidence and procedure. After reviewing the transcript, the court was satisfied that the Applicant was afforded the opportunity to argue his appeal fully through counsel.
The court further noted that there was no apprehension of bias in the case. The court accepted the Applicant’s argument that there was a great deal of obvious familiarity between the Respondent’s counsel and the tribunal member; however, “familiarity” is not determinative of bias. Rather, the question is whether a reasonable and right-minded person would perceive that there was an apprehension of bias. The court explained that in spite of the obvious friendship between Respondent’s counsel and the tribunal, an objective analysis of the process demonstrated a fair hearing and an outcome based on evidence and argument.
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