The U.K. secretive men-only GARRICK CLUB

Britain’s highest female judge blasts secretive men-only Garrick Club for ‘holding women back’

By Lee Moran
Last updated at 6:26 PM on 15th October 2011

It has been a bastion of male dominance for almost two centuries – where the top brass of British society have escaped the rigours of daily life.

London’s all-male Garrick Club has been a haven for British judges, writers and actors since 1831 – graced by an elite which has included Charles Dickens and Laurence Olivier.

But it is now facing the wrath of Britain’s most senior woman judge – who has slammed the ‘cosy club’ enjoyed by her male colleagues.

Baroness Hale of Richmond, the only woman in the Supreme Court, said: ‘I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about.’

She also told an InterLaw Diversity Forum, at London law firm Norton Rose, that the culture at the club was a key factor in why women did not make the top judicial ranks.

This was because there were ‘too many systemic barriers’ put in place that depended more on ‘personal network relationships’.

Some key rulings by the Supreme Court might also have been significantly different had the court included more women, she added.

Law schools and the legal industry itself has admitted equal numbers of men and women for the last 20 years.

But Lady Hale said the ‘trickle-up theory’, the notion that women will eventually rise to the top, ‘would not work’ and that with more women she would ‘not be the sore thumb that sticks out’.

She added: ‘We must not just assume that it will all come right one day.’

By comparison, in the U.S. Supreme Court three out of nine justices are women. In Canada the figure is four out of nine and in Australia it is three out of seven.

The club, which has been targeted by actress Joanna Lumley who wants it to change, only allows women as limited guests.

More than a quarter of all senior judges belong to the club – and in the Supreme Court four of the 12 justices are members.

Lady Hale, who specialised in family law, was appointed in 2004 to the law lords (the predecessors of the Supreme Court justices).

As a woman, she has been out on a limb from her eight male colleagues in at least two cases.

Earlier this year she disagreed with their view over whether a prenuptial contract was binding in a case involving a German heiress and her former banker-turned-student husband.

Her colleagues overturned a ruling that she had made in an earlier case on prenuptial contracts.

She added: ‘There is a gender dimension to the issue that some may think ill-suited the decision by a court consisting of eight men and one woman.’

And in July the Supreme Court ruled by four to one against a disabled woman’s appeal against the withdrawal of night-time support.

It meant she had to wear incontinence pads rather than be helped to the lavatory.

Lady Hale, the dissenting judge, said the case was about the value of human dignity.

She said: ‘It could be that the ‘physical differences between men and women lead them to have different views of what dignity means in this context. So it is not surprising that women take a different view.’

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