Club Law and Management
The Important Role of Sub-Committees
Sub-committees are the last level of management of a club. Clubs are required under the Licensing Act to have one general management committee but they may have more committees. For larger clubs these extra committees are essential, and for smaller clubs they can be extremely valuable.
The rules do not have to specify which sub-committees shall be appointed. It is usually sufficient for the general committee to be given the power to appoint such sub-committees as they deem necessary to assist them in their overall task of managing the club’s affairs. Two sub-committees generally set up by clubs are a Finance sub-committee and a Bar subcommittee. Others may include an Entertainment sub committee and a Games sub-committee.
Sub-committees are either appointed or elected and they perform specific and specialised tasks. Their membership does not have to be composed entirely of persons elected from the club committee. However, any member of a sub-committee who is a member of the general committee would be required to stand down from the subcommittee in the event that they resign from the general committee. Also, any subcommittee concerned with the purchase or supply of intoxicating liquor on the club’s behalf, must consist of members duly elected by the club membership.
There are numerous opportunities in a club for the use of sub-committees where appointment and co-option may be used to employ the services of a wide range of members. Sub-committees provide the opportunity to bring in all the best talent available to make the conduct of affairs successful and improve the events and amenities of the club. A member who is an accountant may plead that he does not have the time to participate in all the functions of the general committee, though he can be an invaluable member of a Finance sub-committee. Members with experience in leisure industries will be attractive as recruits to an Entertainment sub-committee. Co-option to sub-committees also provides the chance for younger club members to learn management procedure.
Sub-committees can elect their own officers and adopt their own procedures however ultimately they are always responsible to the general committee. They are not usually entitled to make decisions affecting the club without the approval of the general committee. This is especially true where the sub-committee makes proposals involving the use of club funds. For example, the Entertainment or Social subcommittee could be charged with running the annual dinner or a monthly dance. As such it should either obtain an estimated cost for approval by the general committee, or that committee must specify a maximum sum within which the sub-committee plans its expenditure. If the subcommittee finds it cannot contain spending within the limit laid down, it must report back to the general committee giving its reasons and asking for the limit to be raised.
The mechanics may not be the same in each club but the principle to be observed is that sub committees must have the approval of the general committee for what they wish to do. There is a danger that members of sub-committees will believe they have a special remit of the authority of the general committee. This view must be resisted. Serious financial consequences might follow if the general committee does not have the last word in managing the club within the powers given them by the rules.
Nevertheless, members of subcommittees are not puppets. It might be difficult to find people to serve on them if they were asked to regard themselves in this way. All who serve on subcommittees should be aware not only of their powers, but also where the boundaries of those powers fall.
Sub-committees are of tremendous importance to the well-being of the club. If they are to function well, sub-committee members should be familiar with the requirements of the club’s rules and the laws relating to the conduct of Private Members’ Clubs, just as much as the officers and general committee. An Entertainment sub-committee, for instance, must be conversant with the conditions applicable to the promotion of bingo and lotteries, and to the limitations on serving drink at social functions.
LIABILITY FOR LOST OR STOLEN PROPERTY
The problem of a member’s lost or stolen property is one which is, unfortunately, experienced by most clubs at some time.
The advice given depends on the actual circumstances of each individual case. However, whatever circumstances are involved, the question of bailment applies. Bailment is the delivery of goods by one person, called the bailer, to another person, called the bailee.
Halsbury’s Laws of England defines bailment as: ‘a delivery of personal chattels in trust on a contract, express or implied, that the trust shall be duly executed and the chattels redelivered in either their original or an altered form, as soon as the time, or use for, or condition on which they were bailed, shall have elapsed or been performed.’
In most cases, members simply leave their personal belongings in the club and return to find them missing. If however, a club is to attract any liability for the lost or stolen property of a member or guest, then it would be as a gratuitous bailee, and for this purpose the person claiming a loss would have to show that there had been an actual delivery and acceptance of their property by the club, before there could be any obligation on the club as bailee.
The important factor would be that the club actually accepted the property and became, in some degree, responsible for it whilst it remained on the club premises. Therefore, for example, if a club merely provides the facilities of a coat rack and there is no employee of the club who takes proper custody of garments left there, then a person who loses property would be unable to sustain a good claim against the club for the loss.
During the nineteenth century, a case involving the subject of this article was heard. In this case, a man entered a restaurant to dine and, without being asked, a waiter helped him to take off his coat and hung it on a hook behind him whilst he was dining. The man got up to find that the coat had been stolen. The fact that the waiter took the coat is strong evidence that the restaurant became a bailee of the coat, and the man was successful in his claim.
There are, obviously, a number of distinguishing features between this reported case and the example of the club providing a coat rack. Clubs are well advised to post a notice in the club indicating that the club accepts no responsibility for the loss of property of any member or any other persons on the Club premises. A suitable notice would read: “The club accepts no responsibility for loss or damage to personal property, however sustained, on the premises of the club.”
Clubs always try to be good neighbours to people who live nearby but occasionally even the best regulated clubs may do something that will cause a complaint. Often this concerns noise, possibly from enthusiastic entertainers whose music can be heard outside the club or from members leaving the premises inconsiderately.
Many clubs put up notices urging members to be careful not to upset the neighbours with excessive noise because complaints can cause ill-feeling, trouble and can cost money.
Noise can be classed as a ‘statutory nuisance; under the Environmental Health Act 1990 and if a complaint is made and ignored the club could find itself in court and facing a heavy fine. Sensible clubs would take steps to deal with the situation before a complaint reached this stage but it is essential to do something once there is the suggestion that noise is causing a problem.
There are various stages that have to be gone through before a noise nuisance case gets to court. A person with a complaint would take it to the local authority who would usually write to the club pointing out that there has been a complaint. Under no circumstances should such a letter be ignored in
the hope that the complaint will go away. It won’t. The club should take steps to deal with the alleged nuisance and then seek advice before attempting to reply. If the situation is still not resolved, the local authority would then issue an ‘abatement notice’. At this stage, the club must definitely seek legal advice. Doing nothing is not an option.
Club officers should bear in mind that if a complaint about noise does reach court, and is proved, the fine can amount to a massive £20,000.
Questions and Answers
Q We are looking into showing Premiership Football for our Members. What is the current situation regarding foreign broadcasters and what are the legal options that we can consider?
A The only definitive legal way to show Premiership Football is through Sky Sports and BT Sport who between them hold the copyright required in order to broadcast Premiership Football within the UK. If Sky Sports are proving too expensive then you may wish to look into BT Sport which offers less content than Sky but equally at a significantly lower price point than Sky. For example, this season, BT are showing 38 Premiership games compared to Sky’s 116 games and the price of each service reflects this content difference.
The current situation regarding premiership Football being received from providers outside the UK is still unclear although there are several court cases which are currently on-going which we hope will provide greater clarity on the legalities on such systems. The Premier League’s position is that any broadcast from outside of the UK breaches UK copyright law and recent cases have backed up this position. It is fair to assume that at the moment these copyright considerations include broadcasts made over the internet which we have had some enquiries about.
There have recently been a number of prosecutions brought against establishments for using foreign satellite systems although a clear legal precedent is yet to be established.
Q In our Club, Members’ guests have never been able to purchase their own drinks and this stipulation is included within our Rules. Indeed, I thought it was a mandatory part of our licence that Members’ guests could not purchase their own drinks but I understand that in other Clubs they can. What is the formal position regarding this issue?
A The Licensing Act 2003 is a departure from previous Acts in that it is now permissible to allow Members’ guests to purchase their own drinks. This was a departure from the previous Licensing Act and perhaps why this confusion has arisen.
However, it would seem that under the Club’s current Rules only Members and Inter Affiliation Ticket Holders are able to purchase their own drinks and that the Rules specifically prohibit guests from purchasing their own drinks. This is, as you can imagine, simply a case of the Club’s Rules being very out of date and including Rules which are no longer legally required. In light of the Licensing Act 2003 most Clubs have now updated their Rules to allow Members’ guests to purchase their own drinks. I strongly recommend that the Rules are updated to allow Members’ guests to purchase their own drinks and we would be happy to assist the Club on this matter.
Q We have had a discussion in the Committee over whether the Committee Minutes should be posted on the Club’s Notice Board. I consider that the minutes are confidential since they deal with sensitive subjects such as discussions regarding the Club’s employees. What is the current position regarding publication of the Committee Minutes?
A Committee Meeting Minutes are confidential and should not be displayed in the Club. Additionally, Committee Members should not reveal the contents of them to Members.
As you mention, the Minutes deal with sensitive matters such an employment problems and such information should not be publicly available. It is important to be able to have frank discussions in a Committee Meeting without worrying that the Minutes will then be posted on the Club’s Notice Board.
Some Clubs simply produce a short summary of the Committee Meeting, omitting sensitive information and topics, which can be placed on the Club’s Notice Board so that Members are aware of the general direction of the Club and are informed about upcoming events taking place at the Club.