The WikiLeaks founder has the right barrister
I wrote a profile of Geoffrey Robertson QC, the barrister who will be acting for Julian Assange as he fights extradition to Sweden, in Saturday’s Independent. Annoyingly, but alas not unusually, the real significance of Robertson’s involvement in the case only struck me after I’d filed.
There is a pattern to Robertson’s career. He doesn’t necessarily win all the cases he is involved in, and yet he tends to prevail. That sounds contradictory, but let me explain what I mean.
Robertson’s first case was the Oz trial in 1971, in which the magazine was accused of ”corrupting public morals”. The Oz editors were actually convicted under the Obscene Publications Act. But they were acquitted on appeal. And such was the outcry over the original trial result that police more or less gave up trying to bring such cases against subversive magazines. The verdict did not go Robertson’s way, but it ultimately turned into an important victory against state censorship.
In 1995, Robertson was involved in the prosecution of the former Malawian dictator Hastings Banda, who was accused of ordering the murder of opposition politicians. Banda was acquitted. But the case helped to establish the principle that repressive national leaders should not be immune from prosecution. Seven years later, in 2002, the International Criminal Court, which Robertson had long pressed for, was established.
The key to Robertson’s success is not just his skill in the courtroom, but his knack of getting involved in cases that will generate publicity and support for his liberal political agenda.
The Matrix Churchill trial is another example of the oblique way Robertson reaches his goals . This was ostensibly a simple defence of businessmen who were accused of illegally selling weapons to Saddam Hussein. But the case ultimately led to the Scott Report, which exposed double dealing and hypocrisy by Conservative ministers and showed how state secrecy conflicts with justice.
I think this is relevant to the Assange case. Robertson might not be able to prevent the WikiLeaks founder being deported, yet it makes a lot of sense for Assange to have him involved. Causes that Robertson supports (and Assange feels that he is being persecuted for championing open government) tend to prevail in the end.Tagged in: geoffrey robertson qc, hastings banda, Julian Assange, Matrix Churchill, Wikileaks
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