Magazine article The Spectator

Playing by the Book

Magazine article The Spectator

Playing by the Book

Article excerpt

THE JUSTICE GAME by Geoffrey Robertson Chatto, f20, pp. 415

Back in the 1960s, Australia exported its brightest talents to serve in the British entertainment business- Dame Edna and Germaine Greer, Rolf Harris, Rupert M, and others perhaps worse. It seems to have been mere chance that swept up Geoffrey Robertson, 'a strait-laced, short-haired, pedantic Rhodes scholar' from Sydney, into that fashionable world, when some of his fellow-countrypersons got had up at the Old Bailey for making slightly dirty jokes in a, transmigrated publication called Oz. The jokers could not have dreamed up a farce so sublime as their trial, ritual barbering and eventual release. Mr Robertson helped defend them, then wrote a television entertainment about it all. At the time, as I remember it, the best of the fun was the absurdity not only of the law relating to obscenity, but of the lawyers on all sides, and on the bench, who kept behaving throughout as though the whole performance, wigs and all, could be serious.

Mr Robertson, though, was law-struck in the way that budding actors are stagestruck. As lawyers go, he has become successful and honourable. Much of his book is of the kind usually called My Famous Trials or words to that effect. His anecdotes are genial, expansive, amusing and all those things that successful Queen's Counsels learn to be in order to win the goodwill of jurors. Barely a story does not involve some lawyer ridiculously.

Other bits of the book are about the decent and arduous work Mr Robertson has done, often without charge, for oppressed people in Commonwealth jurisdictions, and for Amnesty elsewhere, confronting lawyers who are ignorant, ridiculous and wicked. He calls back such hell-holes as the Malawi of Dr Hastings Banda, or the old South Africa's 'Venda' Bantustan, but especially hates an even more succesful lawyer, Lee Kuan Yew. His criticism, though, never stopped Mr Lee's re-election by massive Singaporean majorities, and did nothing for the southern Africans whose provisional redemption was won not by the law, but remorselessly by terrorism and economic pressure. Nor do the lawyers who practically rule the United States do anything to stop the barbarity - eloquently denounced by the author - of employing officials to kill their own citizens.

Light as is its tone, this is a book with a message. Mr Robertson, without swanking, lets his reader know that he used to swap stories with the Blairs around John Mortimer's table in Chiantishire, which some regard as the birthplace of New Labour. …

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