17,000 unincorporated bodies
He said: “There are over 17,000 unincorporated bodies functioning in Ireland, providing valuable community services in areas including sport, social services, emergency relief and cultural activities.
“Society benefits greatly from the contribution from members of organisations engaged in these activities, which is largely based on voluntarism,” he said.
“However, there are legal issues which can arise for members of these organisations, and for those dealing with them, which are not widely known, or appreciated; for example, the fact that individual members have potential liability for things that might go wrong, such as injury, or damage, to third parties.”
The key problem with the law of unincorporated associations is that such bodies are not recognised in law as having a legal existence separate from their members.
This gives rise to many difficulties, including the fact that the club or association cannot sue, or be sued in their own name: legal action must be taken against the membership as a whole.
Another issue that arises is that individual members of clubs or associations cannot sue their own club, even in cases of negligence.
Unincorporated associations have no legal capacity to enter in to contracts or be part of contracts. The contract must be between all the members of the club and the supplier of goods or services.
In addition, unincorporated associations cannot own property, instead it must be held by trustees on their behalf.
In relation to civil and criminal law, while such laws appear to apply to unincorporated associations it is difficult to enforce the law, by virtue of the fact that such entities do not have a recognised legal existence and so it is difficult to litigate against or prosecute them.
As a consequence, all the members of a body could be found guilty of an offence, even if they were unaware of the matter concerned. Furthermore, in relation to criminal offences, there are no criminal procedure rules to force a representative of an unincorporated association to attend court to represent their association, giving rise to difficulty in enforcement.
The Plain English version of the consultation paper sets out these and other issues in a clear and concise manner.
The document also outlines a series of objectives that the LRC believes should underpin any changes to existing law concerning unincorporated association.
The LRC seeks the views of everyone who has an interest in these matters.
The consultation paper also highlights an option that is already available to unincorporated associations of becoming a company limited by guarantee (CLG).
The commission suggests that that may be a suitable solution for larger bodies, as it would provide them with the ability to own their own property, enter contracts and to hire employees. This option may not be attractive for smaller, less structured bodies because of the expense involved in establishment and ongoing administrative burdens of company law compliance.
The Plain English Summary has achieved the NALA Plain English Mark. That means that it meets international plain English standards.
The commission also aims to develop and strengthen its links to the Irish language community. With that in mind, the commission has also published an Irish language summary of the consultation paper.
As well as by email responses can be posted directly to Law Reform Commission, Styne House, Upper Hatch Street, Dublin 2, D02 DY27.
Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, 15 March 2023.