Regina v RL and JF: CACD 28 Aug 2008

Club, not members, prosecutable for breach

The Environment Agency appealed against dismissal of charges against the defendants who were officers in an unincorporated members’ golf club on whose land there had been pollution. The judge had ruled that the unincorporated association could have been prosecuted under the 1978 Act, and that a prosecution would not lie against the defendants in the absence of personal culpability.
Held: The Act made no provision to allow prosecution of unincorporated associations, and no general policy could be derived for construing such provisions, because there were such a wide range of provsions. It was not possible to draw from the absence of provisions a conclusion that unincorporated associations could not be prosecuted. In this case the offence was one of strict liability falling on the owner of the land. In every sense that in practice meant the association. Any penalty would be set by reference to the means not of the two defendants but of the club, and any conviction might have real consequences for a defendant; ‘We conclude that the judge was right in his first decision. The prosecution of the club was permissible in law. The definition of ‘person’ in the Interpretation Act 1978 applied and no contrary intention appeared.’
The judge had decided that section 217 of the 1991 meant that the club’s officers could not be prosecuted. The Act contained no ‘officers’ liability’ provision, but the judge went too far in reading into the Act a provision limiting the liability of officers in an unincorporated association to the equivalent responsibility of those in a company. Unincorporated associations varied too widely. ‘a prosecution for the strict liability offence of causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters may be brought, on the facts of this case, against either the club in its own name, or against individual members. It is for the Crown in any individual case to determine the defendant(s) whom it seeks to prosecute. The court would interfere only in the very limited case of oppression involving abuse of process.’
Hughes LJ said: ‘There are probably almost as many different types of unincorporated association as there are forms of human activity. This particular one was a club with 900 odd members, substantial land, buildings and other assets, and it had no doubt stood as an entity in every sense except the legal for many years. But the legal description ‘unincorporated association’ applies equally to any collection of individuals linked by agreement into a group. Some may be sold and permanent; others may be fleeting, and/or without assets. A village football team, with no constitution and a casual fluctuating membership, meeting on a Saturday morning on a rented pitch, is an unincorporated association, but so are a number of learned societies with large fixed assets and detailed constitutional structures . .’


Hughes LJ, David Clarke J,Blair J


[2008] EWCA Crim 1970, [2009] 1 All ER 786




Criminal Justice Act 2003 58, Water Resources Act 1991 217(1), Interpretation Act 1978 5


England and Wales


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Cited by:

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Company, Environment

Updated: 28 January 2022; Ref: scu.273131