High court judge removed from case in part due to his Garrick membership

<span>The application also noted that the father in the case was a regular visitor to the club.</span><span>Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters</span>
The application also noted that the father in the case was a regular visitor to the club.Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

A high court judge has been removed from presiding over a case involving an alleged rape and domestic abuse victim, in part due to his membership of the men-only Garrick Club.

Sir Jonathan Cohen was due to hear a family court case involving a dispute between a separated couple over shared care arrangements for their child, but another high court judge ruled last Thursday that Cohen should not hear the case.

He becomes the second judge in the past month to be formally removed from hearing a case because of membership of the Garrick. The central London club has come under intense scrutiny after the Guardian revealed that some of the UK’s most senior judges and lawyers are members of an institution that has repeatedly blocked attempts to allow women to join.

The child’s mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, accused the father of coercive and controlling behaviour and domestic abuse; she has also alleged she was a victim of rape and male violence by men other than the child’s father. Her allegations have yet to be determined in court.

The mother’s lawyer, Charlotte Proudman, submitted a formal request on her client’s behalf for Cohen to step back from the case on the grounds that he was a “member of the all-male exclusive Garrick Club that excludes women from becoming members”. His membership “could result in bias, unfairness of the proceedings and the potential of prejudice” against the mother, the recusal application stated.

The application also noted that the father in the case was a regular visitor to the club, that his ex-employer was a member of the Garrick and that the mother had attended a protest outside the club in March because of its male-only membership policy.

Granting the application, Mr Justice Keehan agreed that Cohen should not hear the case, stating that his decision was made on the basis that “Cohen is a member of the Garrick Club … the father was a regular visitor to the Garrick Club … the father’s ex-employer is a member of the Garrick Club” and because the appellant had attended the public protest.

Separately, Proudman is facing disciplinary proceedings for her criticisms of a judgment handed down by Cohen in an unrelated case. She claimed the ruling contained “echoes of a boys’ club attitude”. She made an earlier request that the judge appointed to oversee these disciplinary proceedings, Philip Havers KC, should recuse himself because he was a member of the Garrick Club. Havers withdrew himself from the case last month.

Keehan made it clear in his decision notice that “for the avoidance of any doubt” the recusal of Cohen was not related to the disciplinary proceedings involving Proudman and the high court judge.

Articles published by the Guardian last month revealed that some of Britain’s most powerful judges, including a supreme court judge, four appeal court judges and 11 high court judges, are members of the Garrick, a gentlemen’s club that has several times voted down motions proposing that women should be allowed to join.

The Garrick’s membership also includes about 150 KCs, dozens of serving and retired judges, current and former ministers in the Ministry of Justice and numerous senior solicitors.

At least four senior judges resigned from the men-only club after their membership was made public. The Bar Council said that exclusive members’ clubs “create the potential for unfair advantage” for lawyers seeking to become judges, responding to growing unease about senior legal practitioners who are members of the club.