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18 January 2015

Charles Russell Speechlys secures reduced suspension for Rhys Williams enabling him to compete at the 2015 World Championships

Wales and Great Britain 400-metre hurdler Rhys Williams is able to return to competition with immediate effect, following the decision of the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) on 12 January 2015, after a hearing in December 2014.

Rhys tested positive in July 2014 for a prohibited substance contained in a contaminated supplement, and was subject to interim suspension pending the NADP hearing.

Under the rules applicable at the time of Rhys’ positive test the likely sanction was between one and two years on the basis of a finding that Rhys had acted with “no significant fault or negligence”.

However, Rhys’ legal team of Charles Russell Speechlys and Adam Lewis QC was able to secure him a significantly reduced suspension of four months on the basis of their submission that a change in the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) effective from 1 January 2015 should apply in Rhys’ case to a NADP decision after that date, even though the positive test arose under the old rules.

Under the new WADC, tribunals have a wider discretion upon a finding of no significant fault or negligence in contaminated supplement cases.

This enables Rhys to return to competition in time for the trials for the IAAF World Championships which are due to take place in Beijing this summer, when he would not otherwise have been able to do so.

In July 2014 Rhys Williams, whose athletic successes include a bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and reaching the semi-finals of London 2012, tested positive for a prohibited substance in violation of the International Association of Athletics Federation Anti - Doping Rules 2014-15, which follow the WADC.

He accepted that the substance had come into his body, albeit inadvertently, and was, as a result, provisionally suspended with effect from 23 July pending his hearing.

This suspension caused him to miss the 2014 Commonwealth Games at which he would have been the co-captain of the Welsh team.

The prohibited substance identified in Rhys Williams’ sample was found to have entered his system through a contaminated supplement.

Three prior tests (two blood tests and one urine test) taken by Rhys while taking the same supplement had not indicated the presence of any prohibited substance, leading him to believe use of the supplement was not an issue.

UK Anti-Doping accepted this analysis and therefore the source of the substance was not in issue.

Consequently, the case turned upon the level of fault or negligence, if any, Rhys Williams had shown in allowing the contaminated supplement to enter his body.

At the time of Rhys Williams’ positive test the applicable rules were based on the 2009 WADC.

Under this code, where a tribunal found that the athlete had displayed no significant fault or negligence its discretion in relation to the period of ineligibility to apply was limited to a range of one to two years.

However, in recognition of the prevalence of supplements in modern day athletics and calls to address the limitations placed on tribunals where a finding of no significant fault or negligence is most relevant, a change was made in the revised WADC that was to come into effect from 1 January 2015.

Under the 2015 Code, the relevant tribunal can order anything between a reprimand and no period of ineligibility to a two year period of ineligibility.

At a hearing on 15 December 2014, Adam Lewis QC submitted that Rhys had showed no or no significant fault or negligence and that he should enjoy the benefit of the rule change if the decision of the NADP came after 1 January, on the basis of the lex mitior and transitional provisions in the new Code.

The tribunal delivered its decision on 12 January 2015.

In its decision, the tribunal accepted that the athlete’s fault or negligence was not significant and that it should base its sanction on the new rules.

As a result the NADP had greater flexibility in terms of the sanctions available to it, and decided in the light of the evidence to impose a period of ineligibility of only four months from 23 July 2014, the date on which the athlete’s provisional suspension commenced.

Colin Gibson, Partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, said:

"The decision handed down by the tribunal is significant in that it is an early application of the 2015 WADC sanctions to a case under the previous rules, and in that it is likely to be a bench mark for future contaminated supplement cases. In applying the sanctions under the 2015 Code the tribunal elected to suspend Rhys Williams for only four months which means that Rhys is able to return to competition with immediate effect."

Rhys Williams said:

"I am thrilled with the service I received from Charles Russell Speechlys and Adam Lewis QC. The team was able to provide me with guidance in a situation that I never thought I would find myself in. As well as having a calm, measured approach they were also able to identify the upcoming change in the law and how this might help my cause. Without this I would not have been able to return to the track in time to be eligible for the World Championships in 2015."

Charles Russell Speechlys and Adam Lewis QC (Blackstone Chambers) represented Rhys Williams as Respondent in the proceedings brought against him by UK Anti-Doping.