The Bar Council has joined the debate around over men-only clubs - but stopped short of calling for barristers to resign their membership.

In a statement released yesterday, the barristers’ representative body appeared to be critical of organisations that exclude certain people but said it was for practitioners themselves to decide whether they join such groups.

The issue has made headlines in recent weeks after it emerged that several leading judges are members of the Garrick Club in London, which does not allow women to join. More than 60 lawyers, including barristers and solicitors, then wrote an open letter calling on all judges who are members to resign. The Garrick has 150 barristers among its members. 

Bar Council chair Sam Townend said there was a wider issue with lawyers being members of clubs where sections of society are kept out.

‘Closed doors and exclusionary spaces do not foster support or collaboration between colleagues,’ he said. ‘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.’

Townend pointed to evidence showing that women working in the legal profession at all levels face discrimination at work. The Bar Council’s own research found gender disparities in career progression, retention and earnings, as well as women disproportionately experiencing bullying and harassment at work.

‘Women barristers have not yet secured equal representation or remuneration in our profession and are underrepresented in the judiciary,’ he added.

The Guardian reported this week that at least four senior judges had resigned from the Garrick, including lord justice of appeal Sir Keith Lindblom and High Court judges Nicholas Cusworth, Nicholas Lavender and Ian Dove.

The Judicial Office had previously said it would not comment on individuals, but it has confirmed when asked if a judge is known to have resigned his membership. The number could be more than four as judges are not obliged to say whether they have resigned.

Meanwhile, barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman has revealed she is facing disciplinary proceedings by the Bar Standards Board after posting a 14-part thread on X (formerly Twitter) where she referenced a family court ruling by a judge she said was a member of the Garrick. Proudman had tweeted: ’This judgment has echoes of the “boys’ club” which still exists among men in powerful positions.’

The BSB declined to comment.

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