Club Rules – Both sides need to play fairly

Social and sporting clubs are an important part of many Australian communities. Not only do they provide a variety of community services and undertake a great deal of charitable work, but they are also a forum for like-minded people to get together for their chosen sport, charity or community activity. In larger communities the choice of Club is wide, but in some communities there may be only one Club. To ban a person from a Club can have ramifications not only for the individual concerned, but also for the Club itself as the recent decision of Gould v Isis Club Incorporated [2015] QSC 253 demonstrates.

Generally speaking Clubs are incorporated associations under the Associations Incorporations Act 1981 (‘the Act’), but they will also have their own Club Rules regarding membership and the termination of that membership. In this matter the Supreme Court had to decide if the Isis Club (located in Miles Qld) had provided Mrs Gould with a ‘ full and fair opportunity to show why her membership should not be terminated ’. The Court held that they had not, and set aside the Club’s decision to terminate her membership.

Essentially, the Club failed to afford Mrs Gould with that which we all sometimes take for granted – ‘Natural Justice’. The Act requires an incorporated association to follow the rules of ‘Natural Justice’ in adjudicating on the rights of its members. The Court held that Mrs Gould was not provided with proper notice of the allegations against her, and that no person can properly prepare to defend their conduct without knowing the complaint they are to meet (including sufficient supporting material about the complaint). The Court also held that Mrs Gould had not been provided with sufficient time in which to prepared her defence, with the Club only allowing 6 days, which was described as ‘ far to short’ . Amongst these cissues the Court also expressed concern about the impartiality of the actual decision makers, and that the committee members appeared to have held the allegation as factual, and acted on that basis before hearing from the Mrs Gould. The Club had improperly reversed the process required, that is, ‘hear the evidence and then make their decision’ – not the other way around.

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