Natural justice and procedural fairness: Sharp v National Rugby League Ltd [2016] NSWSC 730

The Supreme Court of New South Wales found that procedural fairness and natural justice did not make a suspension invalid because the suspended parties had agreed to rules that excluded these duties.

Sharp, Issa, Serrao, Boulous and Anderson (the plaintiffs) were registered with the National Rugby League (NRL) as “Club Officials” and were required to comply with the rules published by the NRL.

Rule 22 of the NRL Rules allowed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NRL to suspend a Club Official if they believed the Club Official had failed to comply with the Rules or was not a ‘fit and proper person’ to remain acting in their capacity as a Club Official.

With regards to this rule, the plaintiffs were issued a notice informing them of their suspension as the CEO of NRL believed they had failed to comply with the NRL Rules.

The plaintiffs claimed they were denied procedural fairness and natural justice by not being given an opportunity to respond prior to being suspended. They claimed the Rules either expressly provided for this right or did not exclude such a right being implied. As such, the plaintiffs claimed the notice was void.

Decision

The Court noted that clubs and associations within Australia could exclude natural justice, and where parties agreed to this, a Court would not interfere.

The Court found use of the word “shall” in Rule 22(2) meant “expressing an instruction or command” based on its definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. This meant, upon the CEO of the NRL forming an opinion that a Club Official was not complying with the Rules, he or she would be required to inform the Club Official that their registration was suspended.

Thus, the CEO had no other option but to notify the plaintiffs of their suspension and accordingly the notice was valid. Further, the wording of the rule denied the CEO from allowing the plaintiffs an opportunity to respond before their interim suspension and the plaintiffs had therefore waived their right to procedural fairness and natural justice by agreeing to comply with the Rules.

The Court dismissed the proceedings.

Read the full decision here  

* PCC Lawyers are a team of employment practitioners based in Sydney, with many years of combined knowledge and experience in workplace law, industrial relations, workplace investigations and training.  They provide a high standard of excellence and an exceptional level of personal service to a variety of clients in the Sydney metropolitan area, Central Coast, regional NSW and interstate.