Exclusive: Male-only club beloved of top lawyers comes under fire from within profession
The body which represents women barristers has described the male-only membership policy of a private club that is very popular with lawyers as “unusual” as the legal profession gears up for battle over one of its guilty secrets.
The Garrick Club, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a gentleman’s club in the West End of London that — notoriously — does not admit women as members (although they can go as guests). Regulars include powerful men from various walks of life, but it is particularly popular with senior lawyers, among whom are many members of the judiciary.
At a time of increasing soul-searching about the lack of gender diversity in the higher echelons of the legal profession, the success of the Garrick Club in avoiding adverse publicity has been notable. But a motion by one of its members, Carmelite Chambers criminal barrister Bob Marshall-Andrews QC, to allow women to join the club is thrusting the nearly 200 year-old institution into the spotlight.
Last week, writing in the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman reported that 11 unnamed QC members of the Garrick are opposing Marshall-Andrews’ motion — which will be voted on in June.
And today the Association of Women Barristers (AWB) has weighed in to the escalating scrap, telling Legal Cheek:
“The Association of Women Barristers is committed to combating the inequality that exists towards women at the bar and in society. The current membership policy of the Garrick Club appears unusual in modern times particularly since women are welcomed on entry. We would like to congratulate Bob Marshall-Andrews QC for proposing the motion to expand membership.”
The statement was issued following a discussion among the AWB’s committee, which includes a host of top female barristers such as Ruth Henke QC and Kaly Kaul QC, although it is not known which individuals were present.
It echoes the sentiment expressed by Lady Hale — the only female judge in the Supreme Court — in 2011 when she admitted that she found it “quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
The AWB’s stance will also receive support from London magistrate Jo Arden, who in 2013 proposed that three senior judges who were Garrick members should have their honorary membership of the Magistrates’ Association removed. Although Arden was narrowly defeated, fearing that her motion would be tabled again the Magistrates’ Association moved to scrap honorary membership, meaning that former Supreme Court president Lord Phillips, ex-Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf and ex-Justice Secretary Lord Irvine of Lairg all lost their honorary status.
Of 108 High Court judges, only 21 are women, while there are only seven women out of 38 justices sitting in the Court of Appeal and just one woman judge out of 12 in the Supreme Court.
Gender diversity is also poor among senior lawyers, with the Legal Cheek Most Lists showing that men dominate the higher echelons of the majority of top firms and chambers.
Most List: law firms [Legal Cheek]
Most List: chambers [Legal Cheek]