Consistent Inconsistencies - The Dangers of DIY Club Constitutions

8 February 2018

In the age of Google and Wikipedia there is a growing view that information and answers should be able to do everything ourselves.

We are all guilty of it, the other day my dishwasher filled with water and, rather than find someone who fixed dishwashers for a living, I Googled to see if I could fix it myself. The short version is: my kitchen flooded.

We all know a club's constitution is one of the most important documents a club has. It is effectively the contract between a club, its committee and the members. A constitution should be an up-to-date working document and will often be the first port of call in working out how to resolve an issue with members.

However, clubs are often reluctant to invest in their constitution and a number of clubs look to cut costs and had have a go at updating their constitutions themselves.  One problem is that this can lead to inconsistencies within the document and necessary disputes with the members.

It is important that committees and managers regularly review, and have a good think about, their club's constitution.  It can even be beneficial to chat with other clubs to see how their constitution deals with potential issues.  However, at the end of the day, a constitution and a notice of meeting are legal documents and "DIY" errors can lead to problems.

There are real risks for a club simply trying to 'cut and paste' a provision from another constitution without first properly reviewing all of its own rules.

For example, we have seen a club that introduced detailed provisions on postal voting but failed to amend another rule which still required that members be personally present at the club while voting on the election of the committee.

Often a subject may be dealt with in two or three places in a club's constitution (regarding different aspects of the subject) and amending only one part (without dealing with another) may lead to the document being incoherent.  Even if the document can be made sense of, there is the risk that a member may find the inconsistent provision and use it to cause unrest with other members.

Another example is in a constitution that, at one place, provided that no more than one vice chairman could be a non-bowling member but still provided, at another place, that only bowling members could stand for or be appointed to the committee.

Another trap can be issues relating to definitions for classes of membership which may change over time.  For example, a club's constitution may provide that "voting members: comprise a number of categories.  This can lead to an issue if the club later combines those categories to create a new category without updating the definitions.

Ultimately, these sorts of inconsistencies can leas to disputes or mistakes that could have been avoided by having the club's solicitor review the proposed changes.  In the same way I am told that I could have avoided the extensive mopping of my kitchen floor if I'd used someone who fixed dishwashers for a living rather than trying to do it myself.

(SOURCE: Bruce Gotterson, Pigott Stinson Parter, ClubLIFE, December 2017)

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