Bar Council issues warning over Garrick Club membership

The Garrick Club dining room: Only chaps allowed

The Bar Council said yesterday that membership of the men-only Garrick Club creates “the potential for unfair advantage” when it came to practitioners needing references to become judges.

In a surprise statement over the row that blew up last week after The Guardian named judges and others who were members, the Bar Council also hinted that in future barristers may not able to be members of such a club.

This may be a reference to plans by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) – detailed in its annual report, published earlier this week – to consult on changing the current core duty not to discriminate unlawfully with a more positive duty to “advance equality, diversity, and inclusion”.

Chair Sam Townend KC pointed out the Bar Council’s “commitment to fairness, equality and diversity”, along with the “significant body of evidence showing that women working in the legal profession, at all levels, face discrimination at work”.

This included the Bar Council’s own research on gender disparities in career progression, retention and earnings – earnings diverge between male and female barristers in every practice area from the start of their careers, it reported last year, while another study showed women were more than twice as likely as men to have suffered bullying or harassment at work.

Mr Townend continued: “Women barristers have not yet secured equal representation or remuneration in our profession and are under-represented in the judiciary. In this regard, the Bar Council remains committed to ensure that those who work within the justice system are more reflective of the society we serve.

“Closed doors and exclusionary spaces do not foster support or collaboration between colleagues. Where progression from the legal profession into the judiciary relies on references, they create the potential for unfair advantage.

“For now, it is a matter for individuals to determine whether or not membership of an institution, such as the Garrick Club, is compatible with the views they espouse in their professional lives, but this may change.

“As a profession it is vitally important that we retain the trust and confidence of the public.”

The BSB annual report said that while its research suggested that those beginning their careers were now more diverse, at senior levels “women and those from minoritised backgrounds continue to be under-represented and earn, on average, lower fees than their white male counterparts”.

The regulator has reviewed its equality rules and said in the next year it would consult on the recommendations made.

“In particular we shall be seeking views as to whether we should replace the current core duty 8 (‘You must not discriminate unlawfully against any person’) with a new and more positive duty to ‘advance equality, diversity, and inclusion’.

“This new duty would apply to every individual at the Bar and seeks to achieve a step change in behaviours and culture within the profession in relation to equality, diversity, and inclusion.

“Our hope is that it would act as a foundation on which to base the specific equality duties that apply to the management of chambers, whilst strengthening our ability to continue our ongoing work to address bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar.”

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, high-profile and self-declared feminist barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman is facing disciplinary proceedings over a series of tweets criticising a judgment of Sir Jonathan Cohen – a Garrick Club member – over remarks he made in a family case two years ago.

In one of them, she wrote: “I lost the case. I do not accept the judge’s reasoning. This judgment has echoes of the ‘boys’ club’ which still exists among men in powerful positions.”

The newspaper said she knew the judge was a member of the club and then asked Philip Havers KC, who had been appointed to chair the disciplinary tribunal, to recuse himself after discovering that he was as well.

Though there was no suggestion that the two men had discussed the case or any work matters or even met at the club, he acceded to the request.

Dr Proudman, who denies the charges, was one of the instigators of an open letter last week calling on judges to resign their membership of the Garrick. There are now 111 signatories, including 22 KCs and three solicitors who are honorary KCs.

    Readers Comments

  • J W says:

    So, The Bar Council has taken the view that “Closed doors and exclusionary spaces do not foster support or collaboration between colleagues……Where progression from the legal profession into the judiciary relies on references, they create the potential for unfair advantage.” What, then, is their position regarding the unfair advantages and exclusionary spaces we all know exist regarding entrance to the Bar and becoming a practicing Barrister? Is it perfectly acceptable that those Chambers which visit universities only bother with Oxbridge and a handful of other universities which all have the highest proportion of privately educated students? How about looking at how many CoA judges are from public school and working or lower middle class backgrounds? Or, why is it okay that when the Inns of Court partner with universities to apparently “increase access to the Bar”, it’s always Oxbridge and top RG uni’s? Why do normal and lower down RG uni’s not have the same scholarship and prize opportunities? How do Chambers promise to have an entirely unbiased and blind recruitment process, but then end up taking on only Oxbridge candidates for many years in a row? There is absolutely no way that the two things can both be true and accurate in such a case. The entire profession is exclusive and many Chambers and other Bar associated organisations do little more than pay lip service to inclusivity initiatives. It isn’t entirely fair and open at the solicitor end of things either, but the Bar is particularly lagging behind. So, to take the view they have here is, frankly, the pinnacle of irony. Also, have they considered whether female only clubs are equally exclusive? In any event, if you’re going to be exclusive, you can’t moan about what Barristers do in their own time, so long as they’re not flagrantly breaking core duties. We really can be, and ought to be, better than this, in my opinion. The profession is really lacking the insights that people from diverse backgrounds can bring to the Bar and to the clients, and the quicker that’s realised, the more beneficial it will be for all involved.

  • Oberver says:

    The Bar should be elitist and proud of. It should attract the best and brightest (regardless of their background) and not be ashamed of wanting the best (or at least those who can spell ‘practising’)

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