Queensland Law Society

Valedictory Ceremony : Judge John Robertson

Thursday 17 May, Maroochydore Courthouse

Deputy President

May it please the Court.

I am genuinely honoured to be here today on behalf of Queensland solicitors and as a friend of Your Honour to celebrate what may be the end of this phase of your judicial career at the District Court but perhaps a new beginning for you with new challenges and new horizons to conquer.

Speaking third (or fourth) at a valedictory sitting always carries with it the risk of repetition after the well deserved encomiums from the Solicitor General, and the former President of the Bar Association.

I am reminded of the great actress Elizabeth Taylor who was asked on the eve of her eighth wedding about what she was going to do. Her reply was that she knew what to do, she just didn’t know how to make it interesting.

I will endeavour to be interesting.

Your Honour, is widely believed to be the first solicitor ever appointed to the District Court in the modern era; a beacon and example to us all. After an extensive career as one of Queensland’s leading criminal lawyers, Your Honour was appointed to this Court in 1994.

However, I am more reliably informed that there was in fact, a solicitor appointed in the 1860s whose criminal law exploits were not of Your Honour’s calibre (he was convicted of fraud).  Your Honour has not been.

I first came to know Your Honour in 1982 when I arrived as a callow youth in Queensland. Your Honour by that stage had already been in practice for nine years and had been in your own firm JM Robertson since 1978. 

I recall being informed by many other solicitors that if I had a problem in criminal law that you were the go to person and I am grateful for the support and encouragement that you gave me in my early years of practice in Queensland.

Your Honour has always been adept at spotting and nurturing talent with, as he tells me, the notable exception of His Honour Judge Dearden who followed you onto the bench of the District Court 11 years after your appointment.  Everybody is entitled to a few mistakes.

Your Honour has the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the musical skills of David, all necessary attributes for both a District Court Judge and as a law partner with Terry O’Gorman.

(The flaming red hair may have been replaced with a slightly ash blonde tone as the years have passed, but neither age nor years has dimmed the fire of his passion).

Your Honour has always attempted to act as a gentle restraint to the exuberance of Mr O’Gorman at legal and social events, but you have never been able to completely silence his boisterous singing.

Nevertheless, your heroics have been noticed and you have attempted to make up for his vocal gymnastics by your own enthusiastic participation in the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir where your volume and mellifluous tones are best appreciated.

It is a significant credit to Your Honour that so many graduands and alumni of the Robertson O’Gorman School of law are here to honour and celebrate Your Honour’s career.  You have nurtured many great careers and have remained a friend to all.

On the bench Your Honour has a storied history having been appointed by Matt Foley who was then the A/AG in 1994.

Your Honour has, as we have heard, spent time as the resident Judge at Ipswich, a stint as President of the Children’s Court of Queensland, and since 2000 the resident Judge at Maroochydore. 

No one trick pony, in addition to your criminal law skill set you have developed expertise as a Planning and Environment Judge since 2000 and have co-authored the Queensland Sentencing Manual which sits proudly in many a legal practitioners office as a handy reference as what is relevant and necessary in the gentle and sometimes not so gentle art of persuading judicial officers.

Your Honour has on occasion, been a somewhat salty observer of the foibles of applicants who have appeared before you and it is well recorded that you advised a conference of prosecutors about the dangers of jury selection.

I quote from a speech of yours from last year “..Some Counsel, predominantly on the defence side do not seem to appreciate that shouting “challenge” at a juror and that person has almost reached the Bailiff is both discourteous and also potentially forensically disadvantageous as the actual jury is likely to see the Barrister as a wanker from the start..”

Good advice delivered directly, with good humour and with offence to none and none taken. No-one in the audience it seems saw themselves as guilty of that particular sin.

Your Honour is also famous in dealing with self-represented litigants; a notoriously difficult task. You have been respectful, whether they had a good case, a bad case or whether they were perfectly sane or somewhat less so.

When faced with a self-represented litigant who informed you that there has been no real law since Magna Carta and that the Queensland Legislation did not apply to “flesh and blood free men like himself”, Your Honour was able to maintain your phlegmatic good nature and courtesy to the extent that the litigant was a good mile down the street before he realised he had lost the case.

Your Honour is known amongst the profession for your compassion, work ethic and legal acumen, having worked on the first Bench Book, you had the opportunity to assist in setting the culture of the Court, and those who have appeared before you.

Your Honour’s Court has always been collegial and cordial which has contributed greatly to the swift and fair dispensing of justice.

Your Honour’s legacy includes relentless advocacy focussed on improving outcomes for young people and children caught up in the justice system, your admirable commitment to restorative justice and a commitment to the professional development of the legal profession. 

You have been free with your personal time, regularly speaking at professional development seminars, universities and the international criminal law congress.

I wish to thank you personally and on behalf of the Solicitors of Queensland for your career, your passion, and your history of public service to this State.

May it please the Court.