Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Off site misconduct can directly impact on the club if it can be established that the victims are members of the club, or have very close links with some of its members. However, when the victims are complete strangers then the legal position of the club initiating disciplinary procedures against the member concerned is far from clear.
When victims are club members , it is inevitable that the committee will receive a written complaint, usually accompanied by witness statements . The rank and file members will be greatly reassured that breaches of rules relating to conduct will not be tolerated, and that guilty parties will receive appropriate warnings, or in more serious cases the loss of certain rights, involving possible suspensions and/or expulsions. However, when the victims are strangers, then the incident will be perceived has having nothing to do with the club or its members, often being classified as a " private matter ".
Yet there has to be circumstances where off site misconduct will have a detrimental impact on the club , albeit in an indirect way. Indeed, many examples can be drawn from employment law tribunal cases, where off site misconduct resulted in dismissals. which were held to be both appropriate and fully justified.
For instance, a serious assault charge and/or conviction would raise serious questions about the member's ability to curb his temper during a table altercation, and therefore his ability to fulfil his contractual obligation to adhere to the club's best behaviour rules in the future. The committee could further argue that his presence at the club would place vulnerable and sensitive players in a state of fear or fearful apprehension. Obviously, there is a need to balance the interests of the offending member with those who might be genuinely unnerved by his presence. There is always the risk that huge schisms can be created within the club over a contentious decision to overlook any form of reprimand. This could also cause shock, alarm and resentment to many who clearly opposed such leniency. Indeed, there is nothing worse than a permanent nasty atmosphere pervading a place where people come to enjoy a game of cards.
Without a doubt the club has a contractual if not statutory obligation for the welfare and safety of its members . This in turn requires the club's governing body to keep the offender well away from the premises.
Moreover the club is entitled to protect both its reputation and financial position, which could be under threat if members started to leave , by virtue of the fact that the club allowed the offender back in. Failure to implement a ban could easily expose the club to bad publicity and loss of reputation. Every committee must therefore deal very firmly with members who intend to bring, or have already brought , the club into disrepute. Nevertheless, club committees have to tread very carefully when facing and dealing with this problem of misconduct off site.
Firstly, there is the need to avoid or ignore malicious gossip, rumour and hearsay. Information received must come from a legitimate and respected source , which may of course include a reputable newspaper. Facts would have to be thoroughly checked out and corroborated. There would have to be strong arguments and irrefutable grounds on which to claim the club, or its members, would be adversely affected, if the offender is obliged to face an internal disciplinary hearing.
On top of all that there is a need to wait for criminal proceedings to be completed if only to establish the person's guilt, although in a civil dispute the verdict can be made on the balance of probabilities, as opposed to beyond all reasonable doubt. Clearly if the misconduct involves a serious crime it is easier for a club to take decisive action. In less extreme cases, the club would be well advised to get the case analysed by legal experts in order to check whether suspension or dismissal is well within " the band of reasonable responses ". This test is one that clubs should use in any disciplinary hearing where extreme sanctions are up for consideration.
Disciplinary committee members, who are required to make some very tough decisions over what punishment would be appropriate and correct , must always attempt to step outside themselves and approach the task with an open and blank mind. This way they can justifiably claim they acted in a reasonable, fair, just, impartial and objective way. Reasonable responses can only come from reasonable fair-minded people, who are able balance and weigh up all the arguments , pros and cons. They must all strive to apply values associated with grounded, non-judgemental people, blessed with common sense, who judges believe all travel to work on the Clapham omnibus.

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