The Premier League has suffered a blow to its attempts to curb foreign satellite screenings at pubs. A district judge has ruled that Media Protection Services (MPS), which prosecutes for foreign satellite screenings on behalf of the Premier League, was committing a “criminal offence” when it launched prosecutions against two pubs. The ruling at Liverpool Magistrates is not binding on other courts - one Crown Court judge has already declined to take it into account at licensees’ appeals for foreign satellite screenings. But could have repercussions as the Premier League looks to crack down on the broadcasts. It comes as the industry awaits the landmark judgement from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) into the use of foreign satellite systems, which is due tomorrow (4 October). The case centres on MPS’ action against licensees of two pubs: Darren Gilligan of the Picture House in Liverpool and Philip and Rebecca Parker of the Black Lion in Sedgefield, Stockton-on-Tees. The ruling from district judge Sanders stated that MPS was “acting as if they were a firm of solicitors”. “As such, I am satisfied that they would have been in breach of the Solicitors Act 1974, and the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. I have seen nothing in any of the legislation which would persuade me that they were not so acting.” It also said: “Apart from the legal reasons, it would in my opinion go against common sense and reason if MPS were permitted, as an unregulated and profit-driven organisation, to conduct prosecutions on behalf of another.” The ruling added that MPS and Ray Hoskin, its late managing director, “were committing a criminal offence when they commenced the prosecutions against the defendants by laying the information”. It said Hoskin’s information provided to magistrates “could not be valid” and charges against the licensees should be dismissed. Paul Cruse, manager of operations at MPS, called it an “isolated judgement”. “[The judgement] is in contrast to the many successful judgments in similar cases, in magistrates and crown courts across the country, that have found MPS to have acted properly and within the law in both their investigations and prosecutions.” Paul Dixon of Molesworths Bright Clegg, who represented the licensees, said: “This is a significant judgement because district judge Sanders is the only judge to have received evidence from MPS about the nature of their relationship with FAPL. “For this reason we believe that the consequences of this judgement could be far reaching and have implications for other MPS cases.” Sanders today ordered to MPS to pay the licensees’ legal fees in the case. The Premier League is not commenting on whether it will continue to use MPS before tomorrow’s ruling from the ECJ. In another twist, the judge at Chester Crown Court last week declined requests to take the Sanders judgement into consideration when licensees of seven pubs appealed their prosecutions for screening football via foreign satellites. Three of the eight had their appeals dismissed: William Okel of the Pear Tree, Glossop, Derbyshire; Nicole Porisse of the Church Inn, Ashton under Lyme, Greater Manchester; and Michael Quigley of the Red Lion, Rugby, Warwickshire. Another two - Peter Sweeney of the Nelson Inn, Manchester, and David Jones of the Football Pub, Swinton, Greater Manchester - were found not guilty because the judge ruled that they didn’t knowingly contravene competition law. Another case, involving Kenneth and Kathleen Parry of the New Deepdale, Preston, was withdrawn on medical grounds. The final two cases had their appeals rescheduled for 22 December: Peter Duszne of Milnrow Conservative Club, Greater Manchester, and William Miller of Grand Junction, Ashton–on–Ribble, Lancashire.

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