Judge Jeff Blackett, the Rugby Football Union’s Disciplinary Officer has been forced into making a public statement after the farce of the last 10 days when the Union’s good name was dragged through the mud.
Blackett was considering resigning, but has decided to continue in his role for the reasons he has laid out below.
“I have spent the last week considering my future as Honorary Disciplinary Officer of the RFU. I have decided not to resign and, given the amount of media interest, I thought it important that I explain why,” he said.
“When I was appointed as a judge in 2004 I swore an oath before the Lord Chancellor “to do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm without fear or favour affectation or ill will.” I believe that this oath also applies to my role as Honorary RFU Disciplinary Officer where I have always tried to act independently and impartially. Whenever I undertake an investigation or disciplinary proceedings for the RFU I approach the task with the same diligence as if it were part of my professional life as a judge. Sometimes that leads to uncomfortable decisions, but those decisions are made impartially, honestly and publicly.
“On 10 June the RFU Council asked me to investigate the recruitment process for the last CEO and the performance director role, the reasons for the Board’s loss of confidence in the CEO, how confidential material was leaked into the public domain and what lessons could be learned for the future. Council subsequently approved Terms of Reference and I brought together a panel of people with appropriate skills and independence of mind. We worked very hard against a challenging timetable to produce a report to inform the RFU Council’s debate on 10 July. The members of the panel are all men of immense integrity and experience and they have given up many hours of their time, for no reward, with nothing to gain but the satisfaction of knowing they were helping the game they love. All members of the panel worked tirelessly, listening to and reading evidence, sifting through it and reaching conclusions. We were unanimous in our assessment of what happened, what went wrong and what was necessary to rectify the problems we discovered and we are satisfied that we have produced a robust, evidence-based report. We hoped that Council would accept the report and discuss the recommendations.
“The report contains some criticism of the former Chairman of the RFU, the Board and some of the governance of the Union. We were particularly very disappointed about the amount of leaking of confidential information which caused significant reputational damage to the Union. The recommendations were designed to restore confidence in the Union, to begin to rebuild its tarnished reputation and to start a process to improve our governance.
“Council received the report and, following extensive debate, they decided not to implement all of our recommendations and left those relating to governance on the table for further discussion. They also voted after debate not to publish the report. Whether or not the report is published is now a matter for them and not me because they have taken ownership of it. My panel and I were disappointed by Council’s decisions and I indicated that I would have to consider my position.
“During the discussion the issue which caused me the most distress personally concerned a threat of legal proceedings against my panel for defamation if the report is published, which was served during the debate in Council. Any such proceedings would not succeed but I felt that their, and my, integrity was being impugned. This whole episode has impacted on me personally much more than I expected. This, together with the amount of media attention, caused me to question whether I was causing damage to the RFU and to myself and my family by remaining as the Disciplinary Officer.
“Since it became public knowledge that I was considering resignation I have been overwhelmed by messages of support from all levels of rugby. Literally hundreds of people have urged me not to resign but to remain within the Council to help to improve the governance of the Union. The Council and the wider rugby community is full of very good people whom I do not want to let down. I would like to thank everyone who has been in touch and promise to do all I can to repay the faith they have shown in me.
“I believe Council and the RFU are now at a very important crossroads. Council has reaffirmed its confidence in the Board and must therefore also accept its responsibility to ensure that the Board address the issues highlighted in the report. The Acting Chairman of the Board [Paul Murphy] has given me his assurances that this will happen. I believe I can better assist this process by remaining as a member of Council from where I can play an active role in holding the Board and Acting CEO to their commitments to improve governance and restore confidentiality. I have already started that process and am in regular dialogue with the President [Willie Wildash] and Acting Chairman to ensure that we do exercise close scrutiny over the affairs of the Union and provide the necessary checks and balances. All of us on Council must now start to rebuild relationships, put personal animosities aside and restore good governance to this Union.”