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

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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“The Garrick is one of the oldest and best-known members’ clubs in the world, but it is holding on to values that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age.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.”

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

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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46 Comments

Male member

Meh. Pass the port.

fdfd

Right to left.

Anonymous

It is one of those markers at functions. One can see the fish out of water types who sit there with the port on their right elbow.

WIS

Exactly, whatever one’s background, one would have been expected to learn such basics at university.

Have you made out your passport?

Do you know the bishop of Norwich?

Anonymous

The social justice warriors won’t get the reference without google.

Here for the comments

*grabs 🍿 *

.

As if you’d want to be a member of club during a global pandemic

Gosh

Unless you’re a particularly reprehensible sort, you don’t base your membership of such institutions on the season.

L

I’m a woman. Leave the guys alone. They just want a place to relax. Women have their places to relax too, from similar women only clubs to beauty salons and hairdressers etc (which are predominantly frequented by women). To think of it, there aren’t actually many places men go to to hang out with friends. They’re hardly going to meet to get their nails done together and then get lunch.

These Clubs are just places for men to relax without women. We all know, or knew until yesterday, that men and women are different and sometimes we shouldn’t be around each other, especially when relaxing and hanging out with friends.

(102)(49)

...

You know that women can attend as guests, right?

Wulfruna

Soroptimists, WI, Ladies Circle are all female organisations.

I guess that some women may feel that they they do not have the same opportunity to network.

Mr Garrick

They want the bloody vote next!!!

Bombay Bad Boy

I hope she wins an historic victory for equality by forcing the club to change its policy. It’s only fair that the vast majority of men AND women are denied membership. The current system whereby the vast majority of men and all women are excluded is clearly unacceptable.

(103)(71)

Anon

Why is it “clearly unacceptable”?

Bombay Bad Boy

I was being sarcastic and trying to set out the fact that this is a club which the vast majority of men would also never be able to join. If she wins, the membership policy will be elitist but not sexist club instead of elitist and sexist . I don’t think that’s a particularly great victory or that there’s anything wrong with single sex private clubs.

Humourator

I think this is was clearly a tongue in cheek comment…

Anonymous

“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.”

Yawn. Same old tired drivel that has been debunked a thousand times. There is no ‘diversity problem’ in the judiciary. Any woman who wishes to go there is (rightly) free to do so, on merit, with no discrimination on account of her gender.

The point is that, on average, more men than women wish to go the Bench. This is because the job is highly stressful and intensive, and involves horrific working hours that destroy any chance of a normal work/life balance. And men are the ones predominantly likely to be prepared to accept those working conditions.

Anonymous

Spot on, I’m sick and tired of people assuming that men and women have the same interests and therefore that any gender disparity is the result of “Systemic Sexism”.

90% of builders are male. Therefore, the building profession is full of misogynists and we should introduce quotas to make it 50-50.

Anonymous

There are no ‘serious diversity problems of the judiciary and the higher echelons of the bar and the solicitors’ professions’, at least not in terms of gender.

There may be a diversity problem in terms of gender in terms of those entering the profession, but you don’t talk so much about that.

A

Yes, there are far more women than men entering the profession and this discrimination ought to be addressed.

fdfd

Private clubs are private clubs. Anyone who buys into the trope that shadowy deals are cut and nepotism is furthered behind the curtains of pall mall has likely never been inside one.

Bombay Bad Boy

Indeed. You’re not even allowed business papers or mobile phones out. If you’re lucky there’ll be a designated area with a couple of machines running windows XP.

feasel

I hope for her sake the defence legal team does not read beyond paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 16. It’ll be very embarrassing if they get on to paragraph 1(2).

Anonn

She expects to be treated cordially and loved by the members after taking legal action to literally force the club to allow her in? At a time when almost all London clubs are financially struggling?

What a weird thing to do.

Anon And On

It won’t come to that; if (and it’s a big if) she overturns the “men only” rule, whether by social pressure or recourse to law, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. No member will want to be the one to propse her for membership, and if anyone does, she will be blackballed on the (perfectly reasonable) grounds that the Garrick has no interest in accepting an underwear saleswoman as a member.

Clubber

Exactly. The publicity splurge shows and some of the comments made in the press releases show how entirely ill suited this person would be to entry, whether male, female or anything else in between. Complete absence of class.

Standards

She should be blackballed just for the poor form of the PR campaign she has launched. Just not done. People who behave that way are just not clubbale.

Worse, the PR effort shows she seemed to know nothing about the place until she applied looking for the fight.

Gammon

White’s doesn’t even admit women as guests.

Anonymous

The Queen was let in. Twice.

Female frequenter of clubland

As a woman, I find this bizarre. There are a multitude of women only clubs that she can join and many are equally beautiful, boasting fantastic facilities. Why on earth would you sue to join a club that expressly does not want you? She is perhaps not aware that she will likely have to be proposed and seconded by other members of the club so she won’t be getting in whether she sues successfully or not… Equally, if there is a judgment in her favour, will women only clubs now be forced to admit men and will these be received with the same scorn? Obviously not and if so, many women will be outraged. She would do better to join her own club and go along with other men who are members of the Garrick if and when she wants to visit!

GS

@Female frequenter of clubland

So essentially your position is –

“X was explicitly denied entry into a shop/theatre/[insert any commercial entity] purely because X Is jewish/lesbian/[insert any protected characteristic] but hey that’s ok because X can maybe just go to another shop/theatre/[insert any commercial entity] so let’s utterly ignore the initial blatant iniquity”.

…Classy, really classy stuff. Slow hand clap, slow hand clap.

As for some of the other comments – Jesus wept, when did this become an incel/MGTOW message board?

Gammon

It’s not quite that simple. Private members clubs can decide how they choose their membership. If you decide to start a club which only admits men or women or airplane crash survivors or any sort of characteristic you can think of then this is interpreted to not be prejudicial… it rather forms a part of the club’s constitution.

GS

@Gammon – it’s not just a members club, it also provides commercial services. Therein lies the incompatibility with the Equality Act.

@Truth Serum – It’s not stupid to ‘conflate gender‘ (…surely sex?) with sexual orientation/race etc, the point is that they are all protected characteristics and as it would be indefensible (as far as I’m concerned) to condone discrimination for other examples then it follows this is indefensible too.

Ok the incels thing was a little sharp but if the cap fits… also you did lose your high horse legitimacy there by describing my post as ‘stupid’.

Also see above point re commercial services vs ‘just’ a members club.

Aaaand finally – wealthy people can’t be victims? Honestly?

Anonymous

Incels? Hardly, the women at drinks parties of male clubs always are top notch. Leverage, GS, leverage.

Truth serum

At a time when unemployment is at an all time high, child hunger is a big issue, companies are going bust, people are losing their lives without the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones, mental health problems have increased and so many are facing an uncertain future, forgive me for feeling no sympathy for a lady who is alleging discrimination because she cannot join a club full of men for £2k a year and doesn’t want to join the female equivalent.

Your responses let me know you are likely privately educated, and an elitist who has never been told she couldn’t do anything because Mummy and Daddy always made it happen. Likely the idea of being told no for membership to a posh club would drive you crazy.

Truth serum

You are attempting to conflate gender with sexual orientation and race/religion. Quite a stupid comparison but typical of people like you to get sympathy for your point. Trying to obfuscate the issue and bring in irrelevant points. Then you call people names (incels) because they don’t agree with your view to shame them into agreement.

Personally I think these clubs should be integrated on the basis of gender, but that would mean all the womens clubs too. May as well do that for the women anyway as eventually they will be confronted by men who identify as women demanding entry. But my views are not particularly strong on this, partly because I respect the right of men and women to want to socialise in separate settings every once in a while, and also because I do not think a woman who want to spend £2k on membership fees every year is a victim of anything.

Chris

She’s assuming they’d accept her anyway?!

Anon Club member

Mischief making – wanting to upset people and bring disharmony to happy environments.

She’ll be demanding a female judge to hear the case- wait and see.

Harold

Pathetic.

It is a place for men, not women. Do you see me pottering about the women’s changing rooms? The Garrick Club is a place we can go to let our guard down. How would you like it if I infiltrated your space and observed you topless? That is right, I don’t think you’d enjoy it. So bugger off .

Garrick Silk

This is shocking stuff chaps. Another sad chapter in the endless Schlieffen plan of these man-hating malcontents, determined to rob us of the last refuges we have from their ceaseless screeching.

We have absolutely no desire to invade their women’s only clubs, and join the conversations about dresses and makeup, or in this case underwear. So extend us the same courtesy and allow us our privacy, such that we can continue ensuring the effective running of society – or whatever else they think we do.

Anonymous

It’s just a pleasant place to go. What it doesn’t need new money attention grabbers joining.

Jones

I think the main problem is not that it’s a men’s-only place but the perception, real or otherwise, of the influence of power in cigar smoke-filled rooms.

Anonymous

There have been recent academic studies to show that this ‘influence of power’ within clubs is largely exaggerated by the media and the perception of those who aren’t members – see Thevoz ‘Club Government’

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