The role of the Umpire

Under the law of the land there is a legal maxim which states “Volenti Non Fit Injuria”.
Simply translated, this means that those who voluntarily participate can have no complaint in the event of injury. In other words, if in the NORMAL course of a match, a batsman or fielder (or umpire!) receives injury, that is considered part of the risk involvement, voluntarily taken.

Certain facets of the Laws of Cricket, however, arguably remove from the INDIVIDUAL the element of  PERSONAL choice, where decisions are taken on their behalf by either Captains or Umpires. Of particular concern are Laws 3.7(Fair and unfair play) and 3.8(Fitness of Ground, weather and light)) .

Umpires are reminded that the law of the land, and particularly the law of Negligence, will ALWAYS override the Laws of Cricket. It would not be a sustainable defense to an allegation of “Negligence” to plead that an umpire was merely applying the Laws of the game. There could be a potential argument that all participating in the cricket match were voluntarily submitting themselves to all the provisions of the Laws, but we are all aware of the fact that many players, even at First Class level, have limited knowledge concerning the finer points of the Laws.

Law 3.7 states that the umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play, and Law 42 elaborates upon the question of “Unfair Play”.
Umpires are urged  to strictly  enforce the provisions of Law 42, and in particular Laws 42.6 (fast short pitched balls) and 42.7 (high full pitched balls).
If they fail so to do, and injury results, there could be a potential liability against the umpire concerned .

Law 3.9 states that a decision by the umpires that conditions are unfit for play may be overridden by the Captains, or the batsmen at the wicket, deputising for the batting Captain. In the case of the umpires deciding to suspend play for bad light, that decision may also be overridden by the batting side alone. There is an increasing tendency in League matches, where much may hang on the result by way of points or League placings for players to exercise the options open to them, particularly in the case of poor light. As has been previously stated, the law of the land is paramount, and umpires cannot and must not seek to abrogate their responsibilities by seeking refuge under the strict appliance of the Laws of Cricket.
When the point is reached where the Umpires, or either of them, form the view that there is a real potential danger to players or officials, they have a responsibility to all concerned to suspend or to terminate play.
It is appreciated that there may be considerable difficulty in deciding when that point is reached, and also potential difficulty in clarifying the situation with players. However, the umpires have a general authority and responsibility for the conduct of the game, and an overriding duty of care to the participants. A decision has to be made and implemented.

Broadly the legal experts agree that umpires could be liable if it were shown that they had not exercised due care but differ in detail as to what would be interpreted as lack of due care by the umpire’s) and how far an umpire needs to go in exercising it. The first thing to point out is that nothing has changed dramatically. Cricket is not a contact sport like Rugby, nor is it so “rough”, but it is a tough game played with a hard ball. Injuries are bound to occur from time to time in the normal course of play. Providing the game has been correctly administered under the Laws, with the exercise of a proper degree of care and responsibility, such injuries cannot be blamed on the umpires. 
The difficult thing to interpret is “ a proper degree of care and responsibility”.

Certainly umpires must be aware of all the surrounding factors in judging whether conditions are fit for play. What may be acceptable light conditions on an open ground, with a good sight screen, a smooth pitch and a moderate bowler, will not be good enough with a background of trees, or a sporting pitch, or an over aggressive bowler, or an indifferent batsman.
The umpire should exercise his powers to intervene under Law 42.6(dangerous bowling) sooner rather than later, again having taken into consideration all the factors of light, background, pitch and batting skill.
The judgment of what is “fast” in applying Law 42.6 must be tailored to the context of the game. The criterion is how much time the batsman has to deal with such a delivery safely. The less skilful the batsman, the more time he will need to react and the lower the threshold for “fast” must be set.

In junior cricket, umpires must be aware of the specific regulations for how close to the bat fielders may be allowed to stand at various age levels and enforce these limits strictly. Additionally, of course, the younger and less experienced the player, in senior cricket as well as in junior cricket, the more care must be exercised to protect the player concerned.

None of this however differs at all from what is preached to umpires who attend official courses, and have or seek qualification in the Laws of Cricket.
The position of a person who is asked, or volunteers, to stand as umpire in a match without qualification is extremely vulnerable and is less likely to respond in a correct manner.

What could create a problem are players, in the senior game, insisting on continuing to play in unfit conditions, especially but not solely the batsmen in bad light. There is no intention to deny them their right to do so this under Law 3.9(c), while conditions are defined as “unsuitable”
If however a point is reached where any reasonable person would judge that conditions were unreasonable or dangerous, and that injury could result, then the umpire must take steps to prevent foreseeable injury by suspending play. 
At junior level it is not considered appropriate for captains to be given the option of playing on in poor conditions. This is a matter for adults to decide following consideration and discussion between Team Managers or in his /her absence left entirely at the umpire’s discretion.
Umpires should be aware of the instruction given in the ECB publication “Keep your head” which reads “make sure that the faceguard is adjusted so that the ball can’t go between the helmet and the faceguard (Grille)”. This is of particular significance if a junior player is observed taking to the field with an ill-fitting or mal-adjusted faceguard and is exposed to a risk of preventable injury.

Injuries will occur in the game of Cricket; players accept this by playing the game at all.
If umpires do their job properly have an adequate knowledge of the Laws, exercise proper judgment and err on the side of caution in administering those parts of the Law referring to conditions of play, and to what may be dangerous bowling, they should not be held responsible for such injury.
The consequences of not administering the Laws of the game correctly may lead to claims of negligence being brought against the match official and others. THE QUEENS BENCH DIVISION published on the 31st December 2002 gives details of a judgment made concerning a  match officials liability. This judgment arose from a claim brought by a player against a referee and others. It was ruled that a referee of an adult amateur owed the players a duty to take care for their safety when carrying out his duties. The negligence claim was brought against an amateur rugby referee and the Governing body, who accepted vicarious liability for the referee. Mr. Justice Morland said “that in so far as the referee could stop the risk of injury becoming reality by appropriate application of the laws it would not be unreasonable to expect him to do so. The rapport between referee and players was crucial to a good game and there was no reason why that rapport would be lessened because both referee and players knew that the referee owed a duty of care towards the safety of players. As a matter of policy it was just and reasonable that the law should impose upon an amateur referee of an amateur rugby match a duty of care towards the safety of players. Such duty would be breached if the claimant established that a match official failed to take reasonable care for the safety of the players by sensible and appropriate application of the laws of the game having regard to the context and circumstances of a match.”
Subsequently the player concerned, who was paralyzed for life can sue the Governing body (WRU) for damages, the Court of Appeal ruled. The player was playing as a substitute for an injured player and Lord Phillips said that the experienced referee had failed to follow the safety law of non-contested scrummage’s, applied when an inexperienced front row player is taking part. Although the players team had agreed to contest the scrums, the referee had a duty of care to the players to overrule the team’s wishes.

Always check at the beginning of each new season that your Club or League provides you with such cover.