Private members club frequented by top judges and QCs faces legal action over men-only policy

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By Aishah Hussain on

Businesswoman Emily Bendell instructs Leigh Day to seek injunction stopping Garrick Club from operating ‘discriminatory’ policy

The Garrick Club, London

A private members’ club known to be frequented by top judges and QCs is facing legal action over its men-only membership policy.

Businesswoman Emily Bendell, CEO and founder of a lingerie company, has instructed solicitors at Leigh Day to seek an injunction to stop the Garrick Club, a gentlemen’s club in the West End of London, from continuing to operate the “discriminatory” policy.

The Guardian reports a pre-action letter was sent to the club yesterday, arguing that the club’s refusal to admit women represents a breach of the 2010 Equality Act. The legislation allows the existence of single-sex organisations, such as women-only choirs or men-only rugby clubs, but it prohibits discrimination by businesses which provide services to customers. Leigh Day lawyers claim that because the club runs a restaurant and guest rooms, it is “discriminatory” not to allow women to make use of them on the same terms as men.

The letter states: “Only men are able to become members of the Garrick Club and make full use of the services that it provides. Male members are allowed to bring female guests into the club, but women are not able to pay for themselves when they attend, become members themselves, book the facilities that men can book, access certain parts of the club at all, or access exclusive member events.”

It continues:

“In essence, women are only able to access the club’s services as second-class citizens on the whim of a man who has to both invite and pay for them.”

Sharika Parbin, a solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “The Garrick is one of the oldest and best-known members’ clubs in the world, but it is holding on to values that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age. It provides services to the public and as such it is bound by the equalities law.”

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This is understood to be the first time an individual has launched legal proceedings against the club. It is not, however, the first time its men-only policy has come under scrutiny.

In May 2015, the Association of Women Barristers issued a statement to Legal Cheek describing the Garrick’s men-only policy as “unusual in modern times”, particularly since women are allowed entry as guests.

The nearly 200-year old institution has been men-only since its establishment in 1831. Regulars include powerful men from various walks of life, but it is said to be particularly popular with senior lawyers, among whom are many members of the judiciary.

AWB’s statement came after one of the club’s lawyer members petitioned a motion on whether to include women. A majority of 50.5% voted in favour of introducing female membership, however club rules require a two-thirds majority before any change can be introduced. It emerged at the time that the motion was opposed by 11 unnamed QC members of the Garrick; prompting a leading Blackstone Chambers silk to urge members of the legal profession to quit the club.

In 2011, Lady Hale, the former president of the Supreme Court, and first-ever female Supreme Court judge, lambasted the club for not allowing women to join. “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about,” she said.

Senior lawyer membership of the Garrick is seen as particularly contentious given the serious diversity problems of the judiciary and the higher echelons of the bar and the solicitors’ professions. The latest judicial diversity statistics show that just 32% of court judges are women. Meanwhile, women accounted for 23% of judges in the Court of Appeal and 27% in the High Court.

The Garrick Club has declined to comment.

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