NRL star Jack de Belin’s ban will continue after a court ruled against his challenge to the game’s no-fault stand-down policy.
- Jack de Belin sued the NRL for standing him down over sexual assault charges
- Hs lawyers argued the rule was an “unlawful restraint of trade”
- The judge ruled the policy was necessary to protect the game’s interests
The St George-Illawarra player, 28, was charged with aggravated sexual assault relating to an alleged incident with a 19-year-old woman in Wollongong in December.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge, but was stood down on full pay under the no-fault policy, before challenging it in a landmark case in the Federal Court of Australia.
Federal Court Justice Melissa Perry today dismissed a claim that the new rule constituted an “unlawful restraint of trade” for de Belin.
Justice Perry said the rule was necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and NRL to act.
“The Court accepted that nothing short of a rule precluding Mr de Belin and others charged in the future with serious offences of a similar nature from taking to the field was likely to address the clear and present danger established by the evidence,” she said in a written summary of the decision.
Several off-field incidents prompted the ARLC to introduce the rule, which applies to players who are charged with serious indictable offences carrying sentences of 11 years or more.
Justice Perry said there was a “significant escalation” in concerns raised by sponsors following de Belin’s first court appearance.
De Belin’s lawyer, Martin Einfeld QC, had argued the provision was “harsh, unfair and draconian”.
He said to have such a measure apply retrospectively was unprecedented in any sporting code in Australia and may also be a world first.
De Belin’s case challenged his suspension, but also demanded “corrective advertising”, costs and damages.
The court dismissed his applications and ordered him to pay costs.
‘We had to make a tough decision’
Outside court, ARLC Commissioner Peter Beattie said the code’s administrators were forced to act in the interests of the game.
“When you’re confronted with the off-season that we had, we had to take some action,” he said.
“Clearly we would have preferred none of this to have happened.
“We had to make a tough decision, our job is not a popularity contest — it’s to do the right thing by rugby league.
He said if de Belin was found to be innocent, he would be welcomed back to the game.
“I said to Jack that we understand his circumstances, we understand this is a difficult time for him, and that is one of the reasons why this rule enables Jack to be paid his full salary [and] to train with his teammates,” he said.
“I think it’s really important from the media’s perspective that we’re dealing with people’s livelihoods here.”
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the welfare of de Belin and his Dragons teammates was a priority.
Crackdown backed by fans
The ARLC and NRL jointly announced de Belin was suspended in late February before conceding the new rule wasn’t actually in place until March 11.
The commission argued in court the crackdown followed growing condemnation from fans, sponsors and the public and had received “widespread approval”.
The commission’s lawyers said it did not wish, nor could it afford, to be seen as condoning acts of violence against women or being “lax” in responding to serious allegations.
Manly’s Dylan Walker had his suspension under the policy lifted after domestic violence charges against him were dismissed in court last week.
Penrith player Tyrone May is the only other player currently affected by the rule.
May was charged with recording and disseminating intimate images without consent a week after the policy was put in place by the governing body.
De Belin’s agent, Stephen Gillis, told a hearing last month that players who were not able to “ply their trade” would take a large financial hit in future contract negotiations.
Mr Beattie has previously said the commission was making no judgement about the innocence or guilt of a player, but the Rugby League Players Association disagreed and said the rule undermined the presumption of innocence.
De Belin’s aggravated sexual assault matter returns to court later this month.