Female judge blasts Garrick Club

IT has been the favourite establishment retreat for British judges, writers and actors for nearly 180 years – an escape from the “monstrous regiment of women”.

But now that women have reached the senior ranks of the judiciary, the Garrick Club is feeling the full force of female opprobrium.

Britain’s most senior woman judge has lambasted this cosy all-male world and the genteel traditions enjoyed by her male colleagues.

Baroness Hale of Richmond, the only woman in the Supreme Court, is dismayed that so many of her fellow judges belong to the club enjoyed by names such as Dickens and Thackeray, Laurence Olivier and Jeremy Paxman.

Lady Hale 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.”

The Garrick Club, founded in 1831, attracts members of the arts, politicians and peers, and large numbers of judges and lawyers.

It is estimated that more than a quarter of all senior judges belong to the club: in the Supreme Court, four of the twelve justices are members, including the president, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.

The club allows women only limited access as guests, despite attempts at reform: the actress Joanna Lumley is the latest woman to campaign for women members.

But Lady Hale is unlikely to join her. The judge, who was addressing an InterLaw Diversity Forum at the London law firm Norton Rose, went on to blame the culture fostered through club networking as one reason why so few women had reached the top judicial ranks.

The position in the Supreme Court was “now shocking”, she said: some key rulings might have been different had the court included more women.

By comparison, in the US Supreme Court three out of nine justices are women; in Canada the figure is four out of nine (and the Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, is a woman); in Australia it is three out of seven; and in Israel it is seven out of fourteen.

There were “too many systemic barriers” to stop women reaching the upper echelons of the judiciary, she said, and these included the way in which people defined “merit”, the yardstick for judicial appointment, “as something to do with the way work is organised and commitment”.

But it was also to do with the culture, which “depends on personal network relationships”.

It is more than 20 years since law schools and the profession itself admitted equal numbers of men and women.

“Trickle-up [the theory that women will rise to the top] is not going to work,” Lady Hale said.

With more women, she said, “I would not be the sore thumb that sticks out”.

But she added: “We must not just assume that it will all come right one day.”

She may have stormed the citadel of the judiciary, but the gates of the Garrick – even with the efforts of Lumley – may take a while longer.

“Reasoning from different sets of underlying values can lead to different results.”

Lady Hale, who was appointed in 2004 to the law lords (the predecessors of the Supreme Court justices) has already been out on a limb from her male colleagues in at least two cases.

She was the sole dissenter (eight to one) in a case this year 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.

Lady Hale, who specialised in family law, said: “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.”

In July the Supreme Court ruled by four to one against a disabled woman’s appeal against the withdrawal of nighttime support, requiring her to wear incontinence pads rather than be helped to the lavatory.

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