Regarding witnesses to a protest hearing

Published on May 22nd, 2023

The racing rules allows for fair competition, but it is a challenge to understand every scenario. To help facilitate the process, the Racing Rules of Sailing Forum offers an opportunity for experts to voice opinion.

A post by Jonathan Sammut from Malta asked if there were any rules or guidelines about whether coaches, support boats and/or parents can be accepted as witnesses in protest hearings, between two child competitors, in situations relating to Part 2 of the RRS.

Here was the response by John Allan, a National Judge and Regional Race Officer in Australia:

Rule 63,6(a) provides:

The protest committee shall take the evidence, including hearsay evidence, of the parties present at the hearing and of their witnesses and other evidence it considers necessary. However, thecommittee may exclude evidence which it considers to be irrelevant or unduly repetitive.

That means that the protest committee must hear the evidence of every witness that a party brings to the hearing, unless it is irrelevant or unduly repetitive.

Rule 63.6(d) then provides:

The committee shall then give the weight it considers appropriate to the evidence presented …

Clearly some witnesses will have a relationship to a party that gives them an interest in the outcome of the protest one way or the other, and if their evidence conflicts with that of other witnesses, the protest committee should take this into account in the process of weighing and balancing up the evidence to arrive at facts found, but there is no warrant to automatically discount or ignore the evidence of who we used to call an ‘interested party’.

It may well be that a protest committee will place greater weight on the evidence of an independent witness, than on the evidence of the parties, their crew or their support persons, but this evidence should not be automatically discounted.

Judges Manual section F10 provides some guidance about hearing and evaluating evidence.

In my opinion, judges should start with the proposition that every witness is telling the truth (within the limits of their observation, understanding, and recollection), unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Witnesses come to protest hearings under the risk of severe penalties under rule 69 if they lie to the protest committee.

If judges start with the assumption that parties and witnesses are lying to the protest committee, they will never be able to find facts and decide protests.

However, my biggest reservation would be about the unlikelihood that a support person would be in a good position to directly observe relevant facts. Think about where an umpire boat needs to be to accurately call an overlap, a gap, or a cross. How likely is it that a coach boat, subject to the normal restrictions of keeping out of the racing area will be at the right angle and close enough to make those calls?

It may be appropriate for the committee chair to maintain very close control over such a witness, keep them rigorously to factual observation, and not allow them to engage in argumentation or attempts to interpret the rules. This of course is in addition to making sure that support persons who are observers keep quiet and don’t try to run the case for the party.

Bear in mind that if a parent or coach is to appear as a witness, they cannot also be an observer, and must be outside the protest room all the time except when giving their evidence.

I’m not too worried about coaches or parents presenting video or photos. Subject to the reservations in Appendix M, and Judges Manual F10.5, these, to some extent speak for themselves and, subject to those limitations can be quite helpful.

To view this forum thread, click here.

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