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In law a trade union is typically an unincorporated association. It is, in theory, simply a number of individual trade unionists described by a convenient label: the union is 'they', not 'it'. 'An unincorporated association is no more than a collective noun for its members' (R v L at para 21). The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULR(C)A 1992) does not incorporate the members of a trade union into a separate juridical person, but it nevertheless invests their unincorporated association with some of the most important attributes of legal personality, so that a union may in some respects behave as if it were a body corporate. A trade union may therefore be regarded as a creature sui generis, something mid-way between a true corporation and a purely unincorporated association of individuals.
TULR(C)A 1992 therefore enacts that a trade union (other than a special register body) is not a body corporate (TULR(C)A 1992, s 10(1)), and shall not be treated as a body corporate, except to the extent authorised by TULR(C)A 1992, Pt I (TULR(C)A 1992, s 10(2)). However, having stated the general principle that a trade union is an unincorporated association, TULR(C)A 1992 then goes on to invest it with five of the most important attributes of legal personality, namely:
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