Human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson has had an illustrious profession. The Australian-born lawyer has been a tireless defender of civil rights, with a specific concentrate on defending freedom of speech and expression.

In 1989, he successfully defended writer Salman Rushdie towards blasphemy expenses regarding his novel The Satanic Verses. Extra not too long ago, he represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange throughout extradition proceedings.

Past the gown

In his not too long ago launched memoir Rather His Own Man, Mr Robertson recollects his authorized battles and likewise offers an account of his life outdoors the courtroom.

Mr Robertson grew up within the Sydney suburb of Eastwood. He attended Epping Boys’ Excessive College, earlier than happening to check at Sydney College, the place he turned concerned in pupil activism, and shaped a friendship with but to be Excessive Court docket Justice Michael Kirby.

In what’s his nineteenth book, Mr Robertson relates that he’s additionally been “lucky in lovers.” The lawyer had a relationship with British journalist and meals author Nigella Lawson, previous to assembly Australian novelist Kathy Lette, whom he went onto marry.

A life in regulation

The banned ebook The Trial of Girl Chatterley is what first sparked Mr Robertson’s curiosity within the authorized career. After ending the account of the profitable defence of obscenity expenses in his final yr in highschool, he declared he was going to turn into a barrister on the Outdated Bailey in England.

In 1971, Mr Robertson assisted John Mortimer QC in defending the editors of the infamous Ouncesmagazine in an obscenity trial on the Outdated Bailey. The three defendants had been initially discovered responsible and given lengthy prison sentences, however their convictions had been overturned on enchantment.

Appearing on behalf of the Guardian in a libel suit introduced towards the paper by former MP Neil Hamilton, and defending veteran battle journalist Jonathan Randal’s certified privilege to not testify about information gathering in battle zones are additional authorized victories Mr Robertson has underneath his belt.

Nonetheless, the case he appears on with the “most satisfaction” is 1993’s Pratt and Morgan v The Lawyer-Common for Jamaica, which led the Privy Council to rule {that a} protracted interval on dying row quantities to torture and due to this a dying penalty have to be commuted.

Persevering with the great battle

At the moment, Mr Robertson is the joint head of London’s Doughty Street Chambers, which regularly takes on instances involving human rights and civil liberties. He additionally serves as a Grasp of the Bench at Center Temple and a recorder, in addition to being a visiting professor at Queen Mary College of London.

Sydney Legal Attorneys spoke with Geoffrey Robertson QC about his lifelong ardour for defending freedom of speech, the rights of journalists to report within the public curiosity and the necessity for Australia to undertake a nationwide invoice of rights.

Firstly, Mr Robertson, wanting again over the time you’ve spent working within the authorized career would you say that rights corresponding to freedom of speech and expression have been strengthened, or do rights corresponding to these should be frequently defended?  

These rights are challenged in numerous methods at completely different occasions. Governments typically search to redraw the road, on account of technological change and new types of offensive speech.

However, there’s a backside line and it’s nonetheless value defending, specifically that speech must be freed from authorized prohibition except it’s more likely to trigger hurt.

When president of the Sydney College SRC within the 60’s, I used to be all the time railing towards censorship by quoting Voltaire – “I don’t like what you say however will battle to my dying on your proper to say it.”

Nowadays, there’s loads of speech that I’d not go to the stake for the precise to utter, however I’d nonetheless defend – no less than, if paid a correct transient charge.

What was it like engaged on the 1971 Ouncesmagazine obscenity trial. And what would you say the impact the enchantment determination had upon the institution forces of the time that had been making an attempt to curb the rising counterculture?

It was thrilling, at age 24, to be parachuted into a number one Outdated Bailey case after which an necessary enchantment. It was a battle, finally profitable, for creative freedom towards corrupt police and a repressive institution.

We had been on the precise facet of historical past, though we couldn’t know that on the time – it might have been a consolation, as a result of we had been up towards highly effective forces.

The Ouncescase established the precise of writers and artists to shock – to wield Kafka’s ice-pick towards complacency.

After all, it’s first beneficiary was Rupert Murdoch, emboldened to place nude ladies on web page three of The Solar. However there have been worthier outcomes.

In 2006, you efficiently defended the Wall Road Journal within the defamation case Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe. The Home of Lords dominated the publication had the precise to publish an article because it was within the public curiosity to take action.

The Australian authorities recently passed the espionage and international interference invoice. Critics have stated the implications of those new legal guidelines are that journalists might be imprisoned for reporting on authorities breaches of worldwide regulation.

The laws does present the defence of revealing such info as a result of the journalist fairly believed it was within the public curiosity.

In your opinion, is the general public curiosity defence sufficient to guard journalists for reporting on contentious insurance policies that the Australian authorities carries out?

Nationwide safety is in my expertise a declare that’s typically bogus, but the courts normally decline to look at it fastidiously. That should change.

It’s good that there’s a public curiosity defence for journalists, however flawed that the onus is positioned on the defendant to show it.

The burden of proof is essential, forensically, and provided that the prosecution bears the onus of displaying that the disclosure was not within the public curiosity, will this offence be honest.

Furthermore, since a journalist is just not responsible if she or he holds an affordable perception that disclosure is within the public curiosity, it must be for the prosecution to show both that the idea was not held or that it was not credible.

You’ve been a vocal critic of Australia’s asylum seeker and refugee insurance policies. At the moment, a whole bunch of individuals are nonetheless being held in detention and transit centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The federal government’s resolution is to resettle these individuals within the US, though many aren’t being accepted into that nation.

What are the implications of the Australian authorities persevering with its coverage of obligatory offshore detention?

Necessary offshore detention insurance policies have modified over time, however they all the time give Australia a nasty identify for inhumane conduct in the direction of people who find themselves not criminals and who search to assert a proper of asylum.

We must always not fake that the refugee downside is exclusive or simply solved: see Europe, the place the failure to unravel it has led to the rise of populist governments with much more inhumane insurance policies.

Australia is entitled to manage its borders, however should deal with refugees with humanity and due course of.

In your newest ebook Rather His Own Man, you state that the case you “look on with most satisfaction” is one involving dying row inmates in Trinidad.

On this 1993 case, the Privy Council discovered that lengthy durations spent on dying row quantity to torture. And when this happens, a dying penalty have to be diminished to a much less extreme sentence.

You had been impressed to tackle this case after conferences with Black Energy activist Michael de Freitas, often known as Michael X, who was being held on dying row in that nation.

Are you able to clarify why this case stands out probably the most and what the impression of the ruling has been?

Nicely, I used to be 27 and spent per week on dying row within the Royal Gaol at Port of Spain, Trinidad, with a couple of dozen males ready – some for years – to be hanged.

We couldn’t abolish the dying penalty – it was expressly preserved within the Structure – however torture was expressly prohibited.

So, I got here up with the thought, whereas speaking with Michael X, that dying row was a type of psychological torture, and that these consigned to it for a prolonged interval could be entitled to have their sentence commuted.

The argument was much more complicated than that, after all, however finally I persuaded the Regulation Lords within the Privy Council, in Pratt and Morgan v Jamaica, to endorse it, and their determination was adopted in lots of nations within the Commonwealth.

I’m instructed that the ruling has led to the discharge from dying row of many a whole bunch of prisoners, and it’s nonetheless being adopted right now. Sadly, not by Indonesia, which executes reformed prisoners, like Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ten years after they had been first positioned on dying row.

The Australian authorities has handed a raft of latest legal guidelines over current years within the identify of nationwide safety which were slowly eroding residents’ civil rights.

In your 2009 ebook The Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights, you set forth the case for establishing an Australian nationwide invoice of rights. What impact would enacting such a invoice have on the nation?

I feel it might enhance the standard and comprehensibility of Australian regulation and would permit Australian judicial selections to take their place within the jurisprudence of the superior world, which is more and more primarily based on human rights ideas.

Most significantly, it might serve to coach younger individuals within the values we must always maintain expensive.

The Human Rights Act was handed within the UK in 1998. It incorporates the rights contained within the European Conference on Human Rights into the nation’s legal guidelines.

What impression has this laws had on the UK authorized system?

For probably the most half, extremely helpful, as I clarify in The Statute of Liberty.  There are few “laborious instances” now: judges can do justice based on fundamental humanitarian requirements.

There have been some clashes between freedom of speech and privateness, wherein free speech got here off badly, however in any other case the Invoice of Rights has labored very effectively. Particularly, in felony instances, which at the moment are extra honest, and imbued with the “equality of arms” precept.

And lastly, you’ve simply taken the time to mirror in your life and put all of it down in phrases. Mr Robertson, what did you be taught within the course of in regard to the developments which have taken place each socially and legally over your lifetime?  

Nothing a lot. You simply should do what you assume is true on the time – years later, it’s possible you’ll look again and take some satisfaction over how your arguments have been accepted and have contributed to social progress, though equally it’s possible you’ll in hindsight be ashamed of ever having superior them.

As a barrister I’m a taxi on the rank, up for rent by the great, the unhealthy and the ugly, however I’m part of an adversary system that enables the regulation to make progress, and I can act professional bono for causes I consider are proper.

Picture credit score: Elizabeth Allnutt


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