Over 100 QCs sign petition for the Garrick Club to admit women

Over 100 QCs have signed a petition calling on members of one of London’s last remaining gentlemen’s clubs, the Garrick, to vote for women to be admitted at the club’s annual general meeting next week.

The Garrick has a long association with the legal profession, and many senior lawyers are members. Female QCs who signed the petition expressed frustration that a club frequented by senior judges still refuses to accept female members.

“It is well known that The Garrick is a forum where senior members of the legal profession socialise with each other. Men are afforded an opportunity through their membership to form connections with senior legal practitioners to support their professional aspirations,” the petition states.

“This is an opportunity expressly denied to women and contributes to the gross underrepresentation of women at the top of the legal profession. We urge the Garrick’s members to consider whether they would remain members of a club that excluded based on race, religion, or sexuality.”

Several of those who signed the petition said the Garrick’s continued existence as a meeting place for senior lawyers was symbolic of wider diversity problems within the profession. The under-representation of women in senior legal positions is shifting only very slowly; just 16.2% of QCs, 28% of court judges and 38% of barristers are women.

Some QCs left messages beneath the petition describing their anger at colleagues’ membership of the club, and the unease they felt at having to attend dinners there as a guest. One senior female barrister, with 30 years experience, said that case dinners at the Garrick were “frequent”, and seemed to form part of invisible pattern of networking between male colleagues.

Another said the links between senior judges and the Garrick “have long played a part in creating a misogynistic atmosphere that makes it less likely that women will want to pursue careers to the highest level and, if they do, less likely that they will be successful. The Garrick’s insistence on all-male membership plays an important and corrosive role in confirming these gender distinctions”.

The former president of the supreme court Baroness Hale, who was the first woman among 12 supreme court judges (several of whom were then Garrick club members), criticised the club’s continued exclusion of women in 2011. “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 told a law diversity forum. She said judges “should be committed to the principle of equality for all”.

Last month, Sir John Mitting, the retired high court judge chairing the public inquiry into undercover policing, which is examining the abuse of women by police spies, was criticised for his Garrick membership by a senior barrister during the inquiry’s opening session . Questioning his sensitivity to the issue of institutionalised sexism, Philippa Kaufmann said: “Your background is typical of the higher judiciary. Like many high court, supreme court, court of appeal judges, you’ve been a member of the Garrick club, which expressly excludes women from membership.”

The Garrick, which has a central place at the heart of the British establishment, has cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove, supreme court judges, academics, diplomats, senior civil servants, journalists and well-known actors and writers among its members.

Stephen Fry, Damian Lewis, Hugh Bonneville, as well as former justice secretary Ken Clarke and broadcasters Sir Trevor McDonald, Melvyn Bragg and Jeremy Paxman are members. The club, which was founded in 1831, last voted on whether to include women in 2015, when a majority of 50.5% of women voted in favour of introducing female membership, however club rules require a two-thirds majority before any change can be introduced.

The petition was initiated by Emily Bendell, the founder of a successful underwear brand, who issued a discrimination claim against the club earlier this year, arguing that its men-only membership rules are a breach of equality legislation. She has paused those proceedings, but she is continuing to campaign on the issue, ahead of the club’s AGM on 7 December , when the issue of female membership is expected to be raised.

The Garrick has been contacted for comment.