Review: Rather His Own Man by Geoffrey Robertson

Erich Mayer

Robertson is an extraordinarily gifted man who is a passionate champion of human rights.
Review: Rather His Own Man by Geoffrey Robertson

Book cover image of Rather His Own Man by Geoffrey Robertson via Penguin Books Australia.

Rather His Own Man, dubbed ‘reliable memoirs’ by its author Geoffrey Robertson is amusing, informative and challenging. That would hardly comes as a surprise to those that have seen his Hypotheticals TV show or read The Justice Game.

Robertson is an extraordinarily gifted man who has boundless energy and is a passionate champion of human rights. He is deservedly proud of his achievements and his independence. He relishes the fact that when a minister in the Blair government wanted to appoint Robertson to an important position he was told by the minister’s Sir Humphrey, ‘What a brilliant idea…but he is…rather his own man, isn’t he?’

One thing Robertson has in common with most of us is that as a youngster he was unsure of what he wanted to be. This memoir traces the influences that finally led to his career in the law and to his passion for human rights for everyone, be they saint or sinner. Robertson joined a distinguished group (including Howard Florey, Keith Hancock, Bob Hawke, Kim Beazley, Tony Abbot and Malcolm Turnbull, just to name a few) when he became a Rhodes Scholar. While a student at Oxford he decided 'the best thing about Britain was its proximity to France.' However he later became a staunch British citizen while retaining his Australian roots.

This memoir is spiced with amusing anecdotes such as when Robertson asked Sir Zelman Cowan whether a knighthood would get him a speedy service from Telecom. ‘I doubt whether anyone could’ was the reply. It is also spiced with acerbic comments such as the ‘last time I was invited to a box at Lord’s, I had Jeffrey Archer with his bad breath on one side and George Pell with his bad conscience…on the other’.

Much of the memoir is devoted to recounting Robertson’s legal battles in many parts of the world, in forums ranging from the United Nations to obscure courtrooms in third world countries. He is convinced – and convincing – that the way to advance fairness for all humans is to have a genuinely impartial and well-regarded legal system. 

He makes a number of interesting recommendations. One timely suggestion is that the 53 nations that comprise the Commonwealth should do much more to promote free speech and fair trials among its members. This could happen if they elected as their head an inspirational and charismatic leader to succeed the Queen. He suggests that the right person for this job is Barack Obama, a man whose father was born in Kenya, which joined the Commonwealth in 1963.

Robertson seeks reform in many areas and points out that inequality ‘is one of the gravest problem of our society’ and advocates reforming the tax system by, among other things, publishing everyone’s tax returns.

Another recommendation worthy of note is that all countries, including Australia, should have a Magnitsky Act. Named after Sergei Magnitsky, such an act was passed in the USA in 2012 and has been described as one of the most important developments in human rights. In brief, a Magnitsky Act prevents people who have amassed wealth by foul means from accessing or using their wealth in the country that has such an act. Canada has such a law, Australia does not.

Robertson was once described by The Times ‘as anti-establishment, republican and Australian,’ as he says ‘presumably in ascending order of horror.' Reading this memorable memoir might lead you to a more well considered assessment that does justice to a most remarkable man. 


Rather His Own Man
By Geoffrey Robertson
February 26, 2018
Knopf Australia
400 pages

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog