High Court judge removed from overseeing rape case over Garrick Club membership

A judge ruled that Sir Jonathan Cohen should not hear the case due to his membership of the male-only club.

Callum Parke
Monday 15 April 2024 15:30 BST
A High Court judge has been removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim due to his membership of the male-only Garrick Club (Jonathan Brady/PA)
A High Court judge has been removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim due to his membership of the male-only Garrick Club (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

A High Court judge has been removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim due to his membership of the male-only Garrick Club.

Sir Jonathan Cohen was due to hear a family court case involving a dispute between a mother and father over their son’s care, with the woman accusing the man of domestic abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.

The court has heard that “at no stage” have the mother’s allegations against the father been determined.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has also alleged that she was raped and sexually assaulted by other men, and is appealing against a court’s decision for a male psychologist to assess the family due to being an alleged victim of male violence.

The fair-minded and informed observer, having considered these facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias should Sir Jonathan Cohen determine the appeal

The mother in the case

She applied for Sir Jonathan to step back from her case, claiming she would feel “prejudiced” due to his membership of the Garrick Club, which does not allow female members.

A different High Court judge decided on Thursday that Sir Jonathan should not hear the case due to his club membership, adding that the father was also a “regular visitor”.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Keehan said: “The application for recusal is granted on the basis that, but solely on the basis that, Sir Jonathan 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.”

The judge also said the mother had previously protested outside the club.

The Guardian reported last month that several High Court judges and dozens of barristers are members of the Garrick Club, in central London.

Responding to the reports, Sam Townend KC, chairman of the Bar Council, said it remains the choice of judges and barristers as to whether they join such institutions, but warned that “closed doors and exclusionary spaces” could create an “unfair advantage” and “it is vitally important that we retain the trust and confidence of the public”.

Sir Jonathan was not named by the Guardian, but the mother claimed he was named as a member in other press reports.

In written submissions, she said: “The fair-minded and informed observer, having considered these facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias should Sir Jonathan Cohen determine the appeal.

“I would also feel prejudiced and I do not feel that I would receive a fair hearing.”

Sir Jonathan was due to hear the mother’s appeal over a judge’s decision made last August that a man should carry out a “global psychological assessment” of the family.

The mother asked that a female psychologist instead carry out the assessment, suggesting several women who could complete it, but this request was refused last October.

The appeal is now being heard by Ms Justice Henke at the Royal Courts of Justice and is set to conclude on Tuesday.

In written arguments, Dr Charlotte Proudman, representing the mother at the hearing on Monday, said: “A psychological assessment is intimate and invasive. For a vulnerable person subject to the assessment to feel fearful, intimidated and frightened prevents them from engaging in the assessment, which could result in adverse inferences being drawn against them.

“The mother instructs that she would not be able to open up to a male psychologist about the male violence she has suffered, which would prevent a full assessment from taking place, creating an artificial exercise and likely resulting in a gap in the evidence.

“This is also a single joint assessment and, as such, both parties must have confidence in the assessor and the assessment process, which is not the case here. In essence, the assessment has failed before it has begun.”

Both parents attended the first day of the hearing, with the mother hidden by a screen.

Barristers for the father previously said the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, a body which represents children in family court proceedings, said the parents “made cross-allegations of domestic abuse” but that “there are no safeguarding concerns about the child spending time with the father”.

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