At the 2009 Ideas Festival in Brisbane, Australia
Geoff Ronald Robertson
30 September 1946
|Employer||Doughty Street Chambers|
Robertson is a founder and joint head of Doughty Street Chambers. He serves as a Master of the Bench at the Middle Temple, a recorder, and visiting professor at Queen Mary University of London.
Robertson was born in Sydney, Australia, and grew up in the suburb of Eastwood, attending Epping Boys' High School. He then attended the University of Sydney where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1966 and a Bachelor of Laws with First-Class Honours in 1970, before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Civil Law from University College, Oxford in 1972. In 2006 he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Sydney.
In 1990, Robertson married the author Kathy Lette, and they lived together in London with their children until their separation in 2017. They had met in 1988 during the filming of an episode of Hypothetical for ABC Television; Robertson was dating Nigella Lawson at the time and Lette was married to Kim Williams. In his 2010 Who's Who entry, he lists his hobbies as tennis, opera and fishing.
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, Gay News, the ABC Trial, The Romans in Britain (the prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse),Randle & Pottle, the Brighton bombing and Matrix Churchill. 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.
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. The case was later dramatised by Tiger Aspect Productions in a TV series entitled Summerhill and broadcast on BBC Four and CBBC.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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. He called Do?u Perinçek a "vexatious litigant pest" at the ECHR hearing.
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.
Since 1981, often with long intervals in between, Robertson has hosted an Australian television series of programmes called Geoffrey Robertson's Hypotheticals. These shows invite notable people, often including former and current political leaders, to discuss contemporary issues by assuming imagined identities in hypothetical situations.
His 2005 book The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold details the story of John Cooke, who prosecuted King Charles I of England in the treason trial that led to his execution. After the Restoration, Cooke was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered.
In his 2006 revision of Crimes Against Humanity, Robertson deals in detail with human rights, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The book starts with the history of human rights and has several case studies such as the case of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, the Balkans Wars, and the 2003 Iraq War. His views on the United States' atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan can be considered controversial. He considers the Hiroshima bomb was certainly justified, and that the second bomb on Nagasaki was most probably justified but that it might have been better if it was dropped outside a city. His argument is that the bombs, while killing more than 100,000 civilians, were justified because they pushed Emperor Hirohito of Japan to surrender, thus saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of allied forces, as well as Japanese soldiers and civilians.
In his 2010 book, The Case of the Pope, Robertson claims that Pope Benedict XVI is guilty of protecting pedophiles because the church swore the victims to secrecy and moved perpetrators in Catholic sex abuse cases to other positions where they had access to children while knowing the perpetrators were likely to reoffend. This, Robertson believes, constitutes the crime of assisting underage sex and when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, the retired pope approved this policy up to November 2002. In Robertson's opinion, the Vatican is not a sovereign state and the pope is not immune to prosecution. Since Benedict XVI retired, Robertson stated in July 2013: "The committee's enquiries will inevitably lead it to conclude that the Vatican has broken multiple articles of the convention on a huge scale in many countries. The result in human suffering is incalculable. Francis's papacy could well be defined by the world's verdict on his response - more handwringing apologies or calls for a line to be drawn under the past will no longer wash. He will fail unless he initiates bold tangible actions, for example lifting the veil of secrecy that has protected so many clerical rapists, engaging secular authorities and offering rather than resisting appropriate compensation."
In An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians? (2014) Robertson presents an argument based on fact, evidence and his knowledge of international law, claiming that the horrific events that occurred in 1915 do indeed constitute genocide.
Young Geoff Robertson - the 'Geoffrey' was a later affectation for Hypotheticals