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    Friday
    Oct212011

    Jennifer Robinson

    London based human rights and media lawyer Jennifer Robinson talks about her life, work and passions ... And has some advice for young Australian lawyers in London ... She's been profiled in women's magazines in France, Spain and Germany ... Now here she is with Justinian ... On the Couch 

    Robinson: really a rambutanJennifer Robinson has been the public face of Julian Assange's legal representation in London. 

    She graduated in law and Asian studies from the Australian National University - with the university medal in law and the distinguished scholar award for Asian studies. 

    She won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and graduated from Balliol with a BCL distinction and a MPhil in public international law. 

    She worked on projects involving the accountability of multinational corporations for human rights abuses, with a particular interest in the Freeport mine in West Papua. 

    She led a project for the UN secretary general's special representative on business and human rights and in 2008 was named by the UK Attorney General as a National Pro Bono Hero. 

    Since 2009 she has worked at the London media firm of Finers Stephens Innocent LLP where, among other things, she acted for Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Bloomberg, The Guardian, The New York Times and CNN. 

    She is about to commence a new and exciting job as legal director for the Bertha Foundation in London, with the task of creating and developing a global human rights and public interest law program. 

    The foundation will identify and fund "strategic human rights litigation" around the world. 

    Jen will be in Australia next month to deliver the keynote address at a conference on disclosure of information - jointly hosted by Macquarie University and the Academy of Law. 

    We're delighted that she's on Justinian's Couch. 

    Describe yourself in three words. 

    Driven. Passionate. Curious (and infinitely so). My friends would probably add, "the eternal optimist" or "a bit bonkers".

    What are you currently reading? 

    "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen. 

    What's your favourite film?

    "Amelie" - a French film (and I don't speak French). I love it because it is whimsical, quirky and funny and captures beautifully how small gestures and acts of generosity can improve the lives of those around us, sometimes in infinite proportion to the effort spent. 

    Who has been the most influential person in your life? 

    My parents in equal measure.

    In terms of my career, Geoffrey Robertson QC - whose own career I admired as a law student and who I have had the pleasure of working with for the past five years. He has been a great mentor to me since coming to the UK.

    More generally, I consider women in the law such as Elizabeth Evatt, Quentin Bryce and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC as role models - and not just because they are fabulous women in high places, but for their approach to the law. 

    What is your favourite piece of music?  

    This is an impossible question to answer. My taste in music is eclectic and my favourites change all the time. My iPod is a dog's breakfast of classical, jazz, pop, folk, house and disco - new and old. I still love Kylie Minogue - this began at age five and persists today.

    After doing a defamation case for The New York Times about the Beatles I began to appreciate their music all over again. "Here Comes the Sun" captures perfectly the excitement and optimism of spring at the end of a long (long, long) English winter: it is musical vitamin D.

    At present, I am mildly obsessed with a French folk band, "We Were Evergreen". I discovered them this summer at a festival and saw them again in London the other night. Watch this space: you heard it here.

    And "I still call Australia home"Not because it is my favourite song (unless you count The Chaser’s version), but for its sentiment and because it was the in-flight Qantas advertisement for ages, so it reminds me of coming home, literally. 

    What is in your refrigerator? 

    Nothing but a few bottles of champagne (and maybe a mouldy piece of cheese). I am a foodie, but a fiend for eating out so I only shop when hosting a dinner party. 

    What is your favourite website?  

    WikiLeaks. 

    What is your most recognised talent?

    My ability to relate to people from all walks of life, I am told. And my capacity for empathy. 

    What words or phrases do you overuse? 

    @%~#

    What is your greatest weakness? 

    My capacity for empathy. And red wine. 

    What career would you have liked to pursue if you hadn't become a lawyer? 

    An investigative journalist or documentary filmmaker. This probably explains my attraction to media law as I spend a lot of my time helping journalists. Both law and journalism operate to keep those in power accountable. That is, if we are doing our jobs properly. 

    What cases have you worked on that make you most proud? 

    Defending political prisoner Benny Wenda in Indonesia and helping him come to the UK as a political refugee. He is now the West Papuan leader-in-exile, a tireless advocate for justice and an inspirational ambassador for his people. I am proud to have played a small part in facilitating the international role he plays in West Papua's struggle for self-determination.

    Defending Julian Assange and advising WikiLeaks through Cablegate. 

    Acting in the very first application before the new UK Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords) with Geoffrey Robertson QC. We were successful in overturning reporting restrictions in anti-terrorist asset freezing cases in Mohammed Jabar and Others v HM Treasury [2010] UK SC 1, popularly known as the 'alphabet soup' case. It is now a seminal case on anonymity and reporting restrictions in the UK.

    Advising The New York Times in breaking the story in September last year about Andy Coulson's knowledge of phone hacking at News of the World. That story was groundbreaking: it showed that phone-hacking was not isolated to a few rogue journalists and that knowledge and approval of the practice went right up the chain to NOW editors. 

    Do you have any advice for young lawyers wanting to work in London?

    Don’t go to a magic circle firm. There is more to life and to the law. London has too much fun on offer to be stuck at your desk all day and night. This advice applies equally to any city, except maybe Canberra. 

    What are you working on at the moment? 

    Figuring out how to spend summers in both hemispheres. In the meantime, writing a book about West Papua and setting up a new global public interest and human rights law program.

    If you were a foodstuff, what would you be? 

    The rambutan. You cannot judge it by its appearance, though many people do anyway. 

    What human qualities do you most distrust? 

    Self-righteousness ... we are all fallible. 

    What would you change about Australia? 

    Inject every person with a healthy dose of empathy. If Australians were better able to put themselves in the shoes of others, for example our indigenous community or our asylum seekers, I am certain our laws and policies would be better. 

    Who or what do you consider overrated? 

    Julia Gillard, as a lawyer and as a leader - even at current low approval ratings. 

    What would your epitaph say? 

    "Your Honour, I object! I would like to appeal this decision."

    What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word "law"?

    Jude.

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