John v Rees

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
[CHANCERY DIVISION] JOHN v. REES AND OTHERS [1968 J. No. 2692] MARTIN AND ANOTHER v. DAVIS AND OTHERS [1968 M. No. 2390] REES AND ANOTHER v. JOHN [1968 R. No. 2276] 1968 July 10, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29; Oct. 17, 18 Megarry J.

Meetings - Chairman - Powers - Adjournment - Unincorporated political association - Attempt by chairman to put to vote resolution not on agenda, against wish of majority of those present - Resulting disturbances - Purported adjournment sine die by chairman - Officers elected and resolution to disaffiliate from national political party passed after purported adjournment and departure of chairman and others - Whether business transacted after purported adjournment valid - Whether motion to disaffiliate valid - Chairman's powers to adjourn meeting. - Natural Justice - Opportunity to meet charge - Political party - Rule empowering “disaffiliation of an organisation or expulsion of an individual” - Whether excluding application of principles of natural justice - Whether principles applicable to suspension - Suspension of activities of constituency association and powers of officers - Requirement of re-organisation of association - Leading dissident members required to give undertakings of loyalty - Notices of re-organisation meetings given only to members giving undertakings - Validity of meetings - Whether contrary to natural justice. - Presumption - Legality - Rules of unincorporated association - National political party - Affiliated local party - Whether national party's rules adopted formally or by usage - Members joining no knowledge of national rules - Whether binding on members. - Practice - Parties - Representative action - Individual member of unincorporated association claiming personally and on behalf of all save three of members of association - Motion to strike out whole writ, or the claim for relief in representative capacity - Affidavits by members not wishing to be represented by plaintiff - Whether writ should be struck out wholly or in part - R.S.C., Ord. 15, r. 12 (1) (3) (4) (5) (6).F1

On March 27, 1968, D., Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire, was expelled from the Labour Party. On April 6, about 100 people, mostly delegates from local Labour Parties within the constituency, were present at the annual meeting of the Pembrokeshire Divisional Labour Party (P.D.L.P.), at which J., president of P.D.L.P., took the chair. The assistant national agent of the Labour Party addressed the meeting, reminding members of their obligations, referring to D.'s expulsion, and suggesting that a resolution be passed to the affect that P.D.L.P. should continue to act in strict conformity with its constitution, and with the rules and constitution of the Labour Party. Although no such resolution was on the agenda, J. attempted to put to the vote a resolution to that effect, which had been moved and seconded by delegates from the floor, but disturbances broke out because the majority of those present were supporters of D., and favoured disaffiliation from the Labour Party. There was noise, disorder and, in a few cases, bodily contact, but no real violence, and no one appeared to have been put in fear. After some attempt to restore order, J. purported to adjourn the meeting sine die, and then left the hall with other delegates. Those who remained carried on with the business of the meeting, which included the election of officers. C. was elected president in place of J., L. was elected treasurer, while R., the secretary, remained secretary, since his office was not amongst those to be filled. The meeting also passed, by 69 votes to one, a resolution to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and a resolution to support D.

On May 6, J., claiming to represent all members of P.D.L.P. other than R., C. and L. (the first, second and third defendants, respectively), issued a writ challenging the validity of the continuation of the meeting and, by notice of motion, sought an injunction to restrain R., C. and L. from dealing in any way with the moneys or other property of P.D.L.P. By counter-notice of motion the defendants sought to have the writ struck out or, alternatively, so much of it as claimed relief in a representative capacity. Meanwhile, on April 24 the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party (N.E.C.) passed two resolutions, one suspending the activities of P.D.L.P. and the right of its officers to handle the party funds, the other authorising the national agent “to take such steps as are necessary to complete the re-organisation of P.D.L.P.

Pursuant to those resolutions, the national agent resolved, inter alia, to convene a meeting of the Haverfordwest Local Labour Party, but before doing so he wrote to leading members of the dissident faction who supported D., informing them of the proposed re-organisation and requesting from them an undertaking to accept and conform to the constitution, programme, principles and policy of the Labour Party, that they neither belonged to nor were actively associated with any proscribed organisation and that they would co-operate in re-establishing P.D.L.P. in accordance with the rules and constitution of the Labour Party. Four members, including M. and B.L.D. did not reply and four others, including R., sent replies which the national agent regarded as unsatisfactory. By reason of their failure to give the required undertakings the eight members were deemed to be disqualified from membership of the Haverfordwest Local Labour Party, and were neither informed of the re-organisation nor permitted to attend it. The meeting was held on May 20. Officers were elected and delegates were chosen to represent the Haverfordwest Local Labour Party at a proposed re-organisation meeting of P.D.L.P.

M. and B.L.D. challenged the validity of the whole of that meeting in a writ issued on June 12, and by notice of motion of the same date sought to restrain the officers and delegates elected at the meeting of May 20, from dealing in any way with the moneys and other property of the Haverfordwest Local Labour Party, and from acting as delegates for it. Despite the issue of the second writ, the proposed re-organisation meeting of P.D.L.P. was held on June 22, and was attended by delegates purported to have been elected at the re-organisation meeting of May 20, and by delegates from other local Labour Parties elected in a similar manner at similar meetings convened by N.E.C. At the meeting of June 22, those attending purported to re-elect J. as president of P.D.L.P. The validity of the whole of the third meeting was challenged in a writ issued on July 5 by R. and C., and on the same day, by notice of motion R. and C. sought to restrain J. from dealing in any way with the moneys or other property of P.D.L.P.

On the hearing of the four motions in the three actions:—

Held, (1) that the rule as to representative actions laid down in R.S.C., Ord. 15, r. 12 (1), was not a rigid matter of principle, but a rule of convenience in the adminstration of justice and what was important was to have before the court, either in person or by representation, all those who would be affected, so that all should be bound by the result; that all members of P.D.L.P. had a common interest in P.D.L.P., and that since the only objection suggested to J.'s being allowed to act in a representative capacity for all the members (other than the three defendants), namely, that J. would then be representing some who, in fact, supported the defendants and did not wish to be represented by him, could be cured by adding such persons as defendants individually or by securing their representation by other defendants, there was no reason to strike out the writ, either wholly or in so far as it claimed relief in a representative capacity (post, pp. 1305E–G, 1306B–F, G, 1307B, C, 1308G–1309E, G).

Dicta of Lord Macnaghten in Bedford (Duke of) v. Ellis [1901] A.C. 1, 8, 10, H.L.(E.) applied.

(2) That when in contravention of the decision made by the standing orders committee immediately prior to the main meeting and in contravention of the standing orders of P.D.L.P., J. attempted to put to the vote a resolution not on the agreed agenda, he was guilty of a deliberate and substantial breach of duty, which caused the disturbances to occur; that J. possessed no inherent power as chairman to put such a resolution to the meeting, and that while he did possess an inherent power to adjourn the meeting for disorder for such period as might be reasonably necessary in order to restore order, his action in purporting to adjourn sine die was invalid and ineffective to produce a valid adjournment of the meeting; and that, accordingly, C. and L. were validly elected, and since R. remained secretary all three defendants were validly elected officers of P.D.L.P., and J.'s motion in the first action must be dismissed (post, pp. 1309H–1310B, 1312E–1313A–1314B, 1316E–H, 1318C–E, H–1319C).

Stoughton v. Reynolds (1736) 2 Stra. 1045; Fort. 168; Reg. v. D'Oyly (1840) 12 Ad. & El. 139; National Dwellings Society v. Sykes [1894] 3 Ch. 159 and Rex v. Churchwardens of St. Mary, Lambeth (1832) 3 B. & Ad. 651 considered.

(3) That the maxim “Omnia praesumuntur esse acta” was not limited in operation to cases where it was sought to apply it in favour of outsiders or non-members of a club or association, and since there was some evidence that certain rules of the Labour Party had for many years been treated as the rules of P.D.L.P., the maxim could, in the absence of any direct evidence of formal adoption, be applied in favour of the adoption of the rules; that in any event there was no reason why a person joining a club or association should not be bound by whatever rules had become established by usage even if they had not been adopted formally and were not brought to his attention on joining; that while P.D.L.P. was not a mere branch of the Labour Party but remained a separate entity, nevertheless, on...

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