Jockey Club hits wall over inquiry into Munce case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Jockey Club's inquiry into circumstances behind Australian jockey Chris Munce's arrest and subsequent conviction in an ICAC operation last year may be conducted without the jailed rider present, or delayed until late 2008.

The inquiry, opened and then adjourned following Munce's arrest in July last year for taking more than HK$1 million in return for race tips, has taken a new turn with the jockey to be moved to a minimum security jail in Sydney to serve out his sentence.

Munce - will be the first prisoner to be transferred under an agreement between governments in Australia and Hong Kong - is expected to be moved during the coming weeks, accompanied to Sydney by two security guards paid for by his wife, Cathy.

The Australian government has concluded negotiations with New South Wales state authorities confirming that the transfer 'will happen shortly'.

Jockey Club officials, hamstrung in efforts to gain access to Munce for the stewards' inquiry, have stressed that continuing the hearing in absentia is not the favoured option but is technically possible.

'A hearing in absentia is usually undertaken when a person is able to attend an inquiry but chooses not to - that is not the case with Chris Munce,' said Jockey Club chief stipendiary steward Jamie Stier.

'Natural justice provides that he should have his chance to speak.'

Executive director of racing Bill Nader said the club had not been informed that Munce would be transferred.

'All we know is what has been in the press, but we would like to speak to him for the inquiry prior to his departure for Australia,' said Nader.

'We want to determine if any racing regulations have been breached and Jamie Stier is trying to facilitate access to Munce, but I don't know if things are going to happen as we would like. There is an issue of fairness involved, and we are trying our best to be fair to Chris Munce.'

Stier said it was not as simple as stewards visiting Munce in jail.

'It would be very difficult to conduct the hearing on a visitation basis, as other people would be required to give evidence and would have be there on that basis,' Stier explained. 'Ideally, we would have Chris Munce attend a hearing at Jockey Club premises and that obviously is a problem.

'If Munce is to be returned to Australia - and we have not been told that yet - our inquiry may have to wait until he is in a position to attend.'

With Munce unlikely to be eligible for parole until he has served two-thirds of his 30-month sentence, that would mean Stier's panel would not have access to the jockey until after November 1 next year.

Munce's solicitor, Mark Side, said he had no comment on matters related to the Jockey Club's inquiry and could not confirm or deny that Munce was due to be moved to Australia in the coming days.