Labour peer urges judges to quit membership of male-only Garrick Club

Garrick Club
Female lawyers hold placards on the steps of the Garrick Club - Carl Court/Getty

A leading barrister and peer has called on judges to quit their membership of the male-only Garrick Club saying: “it’s not complicated” but is an issue of “impartiality”.

Baroness Kennedy KC, made the comments after it emerged that one of the High Court’s most senior judges had resigned from the controversial members club amid mounting pressure on the judiciary to quit their memberships.

The Judicial Office confirmed that Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, resigned from the Garrick Club in the wake of the mounting controversy. He is the fifth senior judge who has been identified as a member and who has quit his membership.

Last month, the full membership list of the London gentlemen’s club, which was founded in 1831 and is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, was leaked, prompting renewed anger at its continued refusal to admit women. The names on the leaked list included Cabinet ministers, many other senior figures in the judiciary, including a Supreme Court judge, five Court of Appeal judges, eight High Court judges and about 150 KCs.

It also featured dozens of members of the House of Lords and 10 MPs, as well as three bishops, including two retired and one serving, and 14 reverends and around 150 men identified on the list have the title Sir and 40 have the title Lord.

As a result of the leak, first reported by The Guardian, Simon Case, the head of the Civil Service, and Richard Moore, the MI6 chief, quit their membership of the club, along with four senior judges: Sir Keith Lindblom, Nicholas Cusworth, Sir Ian Dove and Sir Nicholas Lavender.

Now Baroness Kennedy, who is a leading barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues and a Labour member of the House of Lords, has called for other remaining judges to also quit their membership.

She said: “There is a misunderstanding by many about the central issue here, which is about the ways in which justice is done and seen to be done. If people appear before a judge they have to be confident of his/her impartiality and anything which points towards discriminatory views has to be avoided. It’s not complicated. It is not an attack on individual judges.”

Asked if she thinks that the remaining members of the judiciary who have been identified as Garrick Club members should also quit their membership in light of this, she said: “I think it would be a sensible course.

“Unless a vote is about to take place and they commit to supporting the introduction of women. Getting to two thirds is the current challenge as I understand it.”

The Labour peer also called for the UK to follow a US-style system in which “judges should not belong to such clubs”.

She added: “What I fear will happen is that there will be growing challenges to judges seeking their recusal in certain kinds of cases. I don’t think that’s good for the judiciary or public confidence.”

Her comments come after two senior judges were recused from cases as a result of their Garrick Club membership. Sir Jonathan Cohen, the High Court judge, was removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim, amid concerns that she would be “prejudiced” by his membership of the male-only club.

Phillip Havers KC, another Garrick Club member, also recused himself from a case after he was appointed as the judge to handle disciplinary hearings against Charlotte Proudman,  a barrister, for expressing frustration at the “echoes of a boys’ club attitude” that she claims were contained in a family court judgment that was not in favour of her client.

Many have been identified as members but are still not believed to have resigned their membership. This includes: High Court judges, Sir Robert Hildyard, Sir Christopher Butcher and Sir Nicholas Hilliard; Supreme Court judge Lord Richards, Court of Appeal judges, Lord Justice Moylan, Lord Justice Coulson and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave.

The membership leak also revealed the King to be among hundreds of establishment figures in its ranks, as well as Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, and Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, as well as the actor Brian Cox and Matthew Macfadyen, his Succession co-star.