Could your Facebook group be an unincorporated association?
18 January 2022
In the recent UK High Court decision of MBR Acres Limited v Free the MBR Beagles, MBR Acres applied for injunctions (court orders) against two groups that had been established through Facebook group pages – ‘Free the Beagles’ and ‘Camp Beagle’. MBR Acres wanted to stop members of these groups from trespassing and engaging in unlawful protest action.
While the Court found that it wasn’t appropriate to grant an injunction because not all the group ‘followers’ could be alleged to have committed the same wrong, the court did consider whether Facebook groups, formed in this way, could be unincorporated associations. If so, the group ‘followers’ would be considered to be ‘members’ of the association.
In this case, the Court found that the Facebook groups didn't resemble unincorporated associations because the groups were no more than a congregation of people around a political cause. If the groups had produced statements of objectives to describe their purpose and some basic rules about conducting its meetings and other activities, they would be more likely to be considered to be unincorporated associations. If a group is considered an unincorporated association, this means that governing members could potentially be liable for harm that the group causes to third parties.
For more discussion about the factors a court would consider in deciding whether a group formed on social media could be an unincorporated association, read the case note published by The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Brisbane.