Geoffrey Robertson

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BornGeoffrey Ronald Robertson
30 September 1946

Geoffrey Robertson (born 30 September 1946)[1] is a human rights barrister, academic, author and broadcaster. He holds dual Australian and British citizenship.

Geoffrey Robertson is a founder and joint head of Doughty Street Chambers.[2]

He serves as a Master of the Bench at the Middle Temple, a Recorder and visiting professor at Queen Mary University of London.[3][4]

Arrest of Julian Assange

Following the arrest of Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on 11 April 2019, Geoffrey Robertson was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT[5] and on BBC Radio 4 PM on 13 April 2019.[6]

Geoffrey Robertson QC on the arrest of Julian Assange, the legality of the revocation of his asylum status, the legality of the UK complying with the US extradition request and what this episode tells journalists around the world.

Legal career

Geoffrey Robertson became a barrister in 1973, and was appointed QC in 1988. He became well known after acting as defence counsel in the celebrated English criminal trials of OZ magazine, Gay News, the ABC Trial, The Romans in Britain (the prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse),[7] Randle & Pottle, the Brighton bombing and Matrix Churchill.[8] He also defended the artist J. S. G. Boggs from a private prosecution brought by the Bank of England regarding his depictions of British currency.

In 1989 and 1990 he led the defence team for Rick Gibson, a Canadian artist, and Peter Sylveire, a director of an art gallery, who were charged with outraging public decency for exhibiting earrings made from human foetuses.[9][10][11][12]

He has also acted in well known libel cases, including defending The Guardian against Neil Hamilton MP. Robertson was threatened by terrorists for representing Salman Rushdie.[13]

In 1972 he advised Peter Hain as a McKenzie friend when Hain defended himself on several charges including conspiracy to trespass arising from his involvement in anti-apartheid protests, as a protest against the apartheid regime. During the ten-day trial at the Old Bailey Hain dismissed his QCs, but retained Robertson and another as advisers, before being convicted and fined £200. Robertson was also employed to defend John Stonehouse after his unsuccessful attempt at faking his own death in 1974.

In March 2000 in the Independent Schools Tribunal, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, he successfully defended A. S. Neill's Summerhill School, a private free school. The proceedings were brought by OFSTED on behalf of David Blunkett, the Education Minister, who was seeking the closure of the school.[14] The case was later dramatised by Tiger Aspect Productions in a TV series entitled Summerhill and broadcast on BBC Four and CBBC.[15]

In August 2000, Robertson was retained by the heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson for a hearing before the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC). The disciplinary hearing related to two counts relating to Tyson's behaviour after his 38-second victory over Lou Savarese in Glasgow in June that year. Tyson escaped a ban from fighting in Britain.[16] Robertson successfully deployed a defence of freedom of expression for Tyson, the first use before the BBBofC, but Tyson was convicted on the other count and fined.

In 2002 he defended Dow Jones in Dow Jones & Co Inc v Gutnick, a case where Joseph Gutnick, an Australian mining magnate, sued Dow Jones after an article critical of him was published on the website of the Barron's newspaper. Gutnick successfully applied to the High Court of Australia, requesting for the case to be heard in Australia rather than the United States, where the First Amendment protects free speech. Robertson then appealed the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The case was described as a "very worrying decision" as it potentially opened the door for libel cases related to internet publishing to be heard in any country and in multiple countries for the same article.[17]

In December 2002 Robertson was retained by the Washington Post to represent its veteran war correspondent, Jonathan Randal, in The Hague at the United Nations Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He established the principle of qualified privilege for the protection of journalists in war crimes courts.[18]

In 2006 Geoffrey Robertson successfully defended The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe. The case centred on an article published in the WSJ in 2002, which alleged that the United States were monitoring the bank accounts of a Saudi Arabian businessman to ensure he was not funding terrorists. Jameel, who was represented by Carter-Ruck, was originally awarded £40,000 in damages but this was overturned in favour of the WSJ. The case was viewed by The Lawyer as a landmark case which redefined the earlier case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd, upholding the right to publish if it is deemed to be in the public interest.[19]

In early 2007, instructed by the Indigenous lawyer Michael Mansell, Robertson took proceedings for the Aboriginal Tasmanians to recover 15 sets of their stolen ancestral remains, then being held in the basement of the Natural History Museum in London. He accused the museum of wishing to retain them for "genetic prospecting".[20]

Robertson has appeared in cases before the European Court of Human Rights and in other courts across the world.[21]

Amongst these, Robertson was involved in the defence of Michael X in Trinidad and has appeared for the defence in a libel case against the former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was also involved in the controversial inquest of Helen Smith and also in the Blom-Cooper Commission inquiry into the smuggling of guns from Israel through Antigua to Colombia.

Robertson has been on several human rights missions on behalf of Amnesty International, such as to Mozambique, Venda, Czechoslovakia, Malawi, Vietnam and South Africa.

Until 2007 he sat as an appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.[22][23]

In 2010 Robertson unsuccessfully defended Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom.

In 2013 Robertson was appointed an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.[24]

On 28 January 2015 he represented Armenia with barrister Amal Clooney at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the Perinçek v. Switzerland case.[25] He called Doğu Perinçek a "vexatious litigant pest" at the ECHR hearing.[26]

From 2016, Robertson has been representing former Brazilian president Lula da Silva with appeals to the United Nations Human Rights Committee regarding Lula's treatment by the Brazilian justice system.[27]

Robertson is a patron of the Media Legal Defence Initiative.[28]


  1. Who's Who 2010. A&C Black. 1 December 2009. p. 1960. ISBN 978-1-4081-1414-8.

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  2. "Geoffrey Robertson QC". Doughty Street Chambers. May 2007. Retrieved 29 March 2009.

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  3. "A few words about Geoffrey Robertson Q.C.",
  4. "Geoffrey Robertson, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London". Queen Mary University of London. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

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  5. "Geoffrey Robertson QC: Assange's Arrest A Deterrent to Journalists Exposing US War Crimes!"
  6. "Minor rape charge thrown out by Swedish senior prosecutor two years ago" 15:45 to 21:09
  7. "The Times Law 100 2009 – Geoffrey Robertson". The Times. 23 July 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

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  8. Robertson, Geoffrey (1999). The Justice Game. London: Vintage. ISBN 978-0-09-958191-8.

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  9. Bowcott, Owen (31 January 1989), "Artistic merit defence 'should be open to foetus earring pair'", The Guardian, London

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  10. Mills, Heather (31 January 1989), "'Foetuses as art' case hinges on common law", The Independent, London

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  11. Wolmar, Christian (7 February 1989), "Nusiance charge in foetus case dismissed", The Independent, London

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  12. R v Gibson and another. Court of Appeal, Criminal Division. [1991] 1 All ER 439, [1990] 2 QB 619, [1990] 3 WLR 595, [1990] Crim LR 738, 91 Cr App Rep 341, 155 JP 126.
  13. Flood, Alison (12 August 2008). "Call for compensation after shelving of Islam novel". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2008.

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  14. Smithers, Rebecca (24 March 2000). "Radical boarding school escapes closure threat". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2011.

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  15. "Summerhill". Tiger Aspect/Summerhill. 21 January 2004. Retrieved 29 January 2011.

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  16. "Tyson Is Fined For Misconduct". The New York Times. 23 August 2000. Retrieved 12 June 2011.

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  17. Maynard, Roger; Gibb, Frances (11 December 2002). "Net libel actions can be brought anywhere in world". The Times. Retrieved 5 December 2010.

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  18. "International Tribunal Recognises Qualified Privilege for War Correspondents". Communications Lawyer. Winter 2003. Retrieved 27 January 2011.

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  19. Harris, Joanne (11 October 2006). "Finers wins landmark libel ruling for Wall Street Journal". The Lawyer. Retrieved 24 January 2011.

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  20. "Aboriginal remains row". Australian Broadcasting Corp. 21 February 2007. Retrieved 29 January 2011.

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  21. Brett Bowden; Michael T. Davis (2008). Terror: From Tyrannicide to Terrorism. University of Queensland Press. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-0-7022-3599-3. Retrieved 2 February 2011.

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  22. Rory Carroll (10 March 2004). "War crimes QC under pressure to quit after bias claims". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

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  23. Davies, Hugh (13 March 2004). "UN judge defies claims of bias". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

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  24. "Geoffrey Robertson QC". National Secular Society. Retrieved 17 October 2014.

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  25. "ECHR adjourns ruling on Turkey's Worker's Party chair over 1915 statements", Hürriyet Daily News, 28 January 2015
  26. Third Party – Armenian Government's observations, Hearing of Perincek v. Switzerland Case 28 January 2015, European Court of Human Rights, video
  27. Robertson, Geoffrey. "The case for Lula". Geoffrey Robertson Q.C. Retrieved 10 April 2018.

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  28. "People". Media Legal Defence Initiative. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

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