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Many sports clubs and members clubs are set up as unincorporated associations. While there is no statutory definition for such an association, one can define an unincorporated association as being a group of persons bound together for a common purpose in an organised manner, in circumstances where there are defined rules which govern its operation.

Another key component in the make up of an unincorporated association, which is often overlooked, is the contractual relationship which exists between each member. The terms of the contract are the rules of the association/club, with the consideration for entering into contractual relationships being the member’s subscription. The contractual framework of an unincorporated association is particularly relevant when considering the issue of disciplinary procedures within a club.

A club’s rules or constitution should set out clear procedures for how disciplinary matters are conducted. Such procedures represent terms of the contract between the respective members. It therefore follows that any deviation from those procedures, as set out in the rules, could represent a breach of contract, actionable by court proceedings by the party alleging the breach.

It goes without saying that sports clubs and members club should pay particular attention to these issues. Many of our clubs have limited resources and so the risk of being sued in a civil court for breach of contract should not be disregarded. To mitigate against such difficulties clubs can take relatively simple steps in addressing potential pit-falls in this area. Firstly, clubs should ensure their procedures are clearly defined and fair. This avoids the risk of disputes between members and offers a level of protection to those who are enforcing the rules. Thereafter, the established procedures must be fully implemented and adhered to from the commencement of the disciplinary procedure to its conclusion.

If a club is in any doubt about its procedures, in terms of their construction or the enforcement of them, then it is prudent to seek advice at an early stage. This will assist in avoiding potential complications in the future, and in a worst case scenario, will assist in mitigating against the risk of court action.