Jennifer Robinson (lawyer)

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Jennifer Robinson is an Australian human-rights lawyer. She is Director of Legal Advocacy for the Bertha Foundation in London and an Adjunct Lecturer in Law at the University of Sydney Law School.[1]

Robinson has acted in free speech and freedom of information cases before British and European courts.[2] She is best known for her role as a member of the legal team defending Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. She has also provided legal assistance to activists from West Papua for more than a decade.[3] In a 2012 profile in The Global Mail, journalist Eric Ellis called her "an eloquent activist for the world's downtrodden and disenfranchised".[1]


Robinson grew up in Berry, a small town on the NSW South Coast in Australia, and attended Bomaderry High School. She then attended the Australian National University, where she graduated with a double degree in Law and Asian Studies, specialising in international law, Indonesia and South East Asia. She was awarded the University Medal in Law and was a Distinguished Scholar in Asian Studies.[4] During her time at the ANU, she also completed studies at the Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She speaks fluent Indonesian.

She was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, where she attended Balliol College and graduated with a Bachelor of Civil Law with Distinction and a Master of Philosophy in International Public Law.[5]


Robinson has worked with well-known human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC for more than six years, including on making the case for an Australian Bill of Rights, as well as a legal opinion on crimes against humanity in Iran. Robertson describes Robinson as "exceptional in being able to understand the practicality of the case as well as being quite brilliant academically. That is why she is such a good lawyer. She is passionate about her clients but sensible enough to keep a certain distance in order to argue their case with power and objectivity." [1]

From 2009, she worked at the London law firm of Finers Stephens Innocent LLP, where her practice was largely media defence, freedom of information and free speech litigation, acting for clients such as the New York Times, CNN, Associated Press and Bloomberg. She also provided international human rights advice, including on humanitarian issues in post-conflict Iraq, extraordinary rendition and international criminal law. Robinson has engaged in strategic free speech litigation before the UK Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights and around the world on behalf free speech organisations, including opposing anonymity and reporting restrictions in the UK, opposing any pre-publication privacy or libel restrictions, asserting greater source protection in Europe and challenging obscenity convictions in Indonesia.[6]

With Robertson, she acted in the first application before the new UK Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords), popularly known as the "alphabet soup" case, where they were successful in overturning reporting restrictions in anti-terrorist asset freezing cases in Mohammed Jabar and Others v HM Treasury [2010] UK SC 1. This is now the seminal case on anonymity and reporting restrictions in the UK.[7] She also acted in the first application, before the UK Supreme Court intervened on behalf of media defence organisations in the Max Mosley case before the European Court of Human Rights.[8]

Instructed by prominent atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, in 2009 she worked with Robertson on establishing the legal case that the Pope and the Vatican were responsible for crimes against humanity, as a result of widespread child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.[9] This case was later submitted to the ICC Prosecutor by the Center for Constitutional Rights.[10]

Robinson advised the New York Times during its phone-hacking investigations in London, including its story about the extent of involvement of Andy Coulson, who had gone on to become the press advisor to the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. The newspaper's stories claimed phone-hacking was not isolated to a few rogue journalists and that knowledge and approval of the practice went right up the chain to News of the World editors.[7] Robinson began advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in October 2010.[8]

In late 2011, she became Director of Legal Advocacy advising the Bertha Foundation, with the task of creating and developing a global human rights and public interest law program. The program aims to support organisations practicing public interest law and to promote movement lawyering [11] It aims to provide a clear career track into public interest and human rights law for young lawyers.[12] In relation to her latest role, Robinson has said, "I’m really excited about the opportunity to inspire the next generation of human rights lawyers. Why be one human rights lawyer when you can inspire a whole new generation?" [13]

In May 2013, Robinson spoke at TEDx Sydney. Entitled 'Courage is Contagious', her speech to an audience of over 2500 informed about human rights issues and the political situation in West Papua through the lens of exiled leader Benny Wenda.[14]

Defending Wikileaks and Assange

Robinson began advising WikiLeaks in October 2010, a month before the organisation burst into global consciousness and she remains a member of his legal team alongside Baltasar Garzon and Michael Ratner. She has defended Assange in extradition proceedings in London, advised WikiLeaks through the publication of Cablegate and the Bradley Manning proceedings and has travelled the world "advocating for Assange's rights both at law and in principle, in the process becoming one of the most recognisable faces of WikiLeaks." [8]

As a result of this work, Robinson has not only come to the attention of the media, but also of governments and the private contractors that service them. Lawyers Rights Watch wrote a complaint to the US Government in 2010, "alarmed by actions of US State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh" that had put Robinson "in jeopardy and interfere with the right of her client Julian Assange, to be represented". In correspondence with Robinson and Assange that was leaked to the press [15] the US State Department made a number of unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims against both Assange and Robinson, as his lawyer, in breach of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association. As a result, Lawyers Rights Watch claimed, "Mr. Koh has invited upon Ms Robinson the denunciation and possible violence already directed at her client. The intention to put Ms Robinson’s personal and professional safety at risk and to interfere with Mr. Assange’s right to be legally represented is inescapable."

Robinson said Koh’s actions were "inappropriate" and her law firm requested a public retraction. No answer was ever received.[16]

Robinson was also targeted by government contractor HBGary for her work as lawyer to Assange. She was listed with journalist Glenn Greenwald as the target of a "strategic plan" designed to undermine WikiLeaks’ operations in a leaked proposal entitled "The WikiLeaks Threat".[17][18] The proposal was developed by HBGary Federal, provider of classified cybersecurity services to the Department of Defense and other US Government agencies, at the request of law firm Hunton and Williams acting on behalf of Bank of America.[19] The plan states that without the support of individuals like Robinson, "WikiLeaks would fold" but that "ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause". This included plans to use disinformation, create messages around actions of sabotage, work to discredit organisations and call out the errors, and to fuel groups feuding around WikiLeaks operations.[17] These tactics have been described by some as illegal.[20]

Nevertheless, Robinson has continued to be publicly critical of the US Government’s handling of the Bradley Manning case, as well as the investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks and, in particular, the secrecy surrounding both. She worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights in applying for greater public access to the Manning proceedings [2] and famously confronted US Attorney-General Eric Holder about his legacy and his plans to prosecute Assange in early 2012.[21] In response to her article about her encounter with Holder, Michael Hastings, a well-respected American journalist who was critical of press reporting on Assange’s case, said that Robinson "has to do a reporter’s job as well." [22] More recently, the New York Times has confirmed the existence of the grand jury investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks.[23]

West Papua advocacy

In 2002, Robinson worked as a volunteer at the Institute for Advocacy and Study of Human Rights (Elsham), a human rights organisation in West Papua, Indonesia until her stay was cut short by the first Bali bombings.

Robinson also acts as a lawyer for the West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, and has toured with him to the US, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. She is also the co-founder of International Lawyers for West Papua.[24]

"Inhibited" travel incident

On 18 April 2012 Robinson alleged on her Twitter feed that she was delayed from checking in at London's Heathrow Airport, having been told that she was "inhibited"[25] by "certain government agencies"[26] from travelling. A security guard is alleged to have told her "you must have done something controversial"[26] while, it was claimed, the security staff phoned the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs. Robinson then tweeted "@dfat Please explain: What is the "inhibited" travel list? And why am I now apparently on it?"[24][27][28] Senator Scott Ludlum sent a tweet questioning the Department of Foreign Affairs: "@DFAT care to explain why @suigenerisjen is on your watch list? what kind of threat do human rights lawyers pose exactly?".[27] After the delay, Robinson was allowed to board her flight bound for Australia.[24]

Within hours of the question being asked by Robinson, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs is quoted as having said to Crikey: "We are not aware of any Australian Government restriction applying to Ms Robinson's travel. As an Australian with a valid passport, she would be free to return to Australia at any stage. The UK border authorities or airline of travel may be able to provide further insight on claims that she was impeded from boarding her flight." [24] The Guardian also reports that "The Australian High Commission in London has no record of a call being received from UK authorities concerning her travel."[29]

After arriving in Australia and speaking personally with Nicola Roxon, Robinson tweeted that Roxon "confirmed the Australian government had nothing to do with the issue I had at Heathrow and expressed concern for protection of lawyers".[30]

Bernard Keane reported in Crikey that "inhibited person" is "not a term used by Australian agencies" but, Keane claimed, it was a term used by the United States Department of Homeland Security.[31]

Awards and appointments

In 2008 she was one of thirty lawyers named by the UK Attorney General as a National Pro Bono Hero.[32] In 2013 she was named the inaugural Young Alumni of the Year by the Australian National University.[33] Robinson is on the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Law Association.[34]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Eric Ellis, "From Bomaderry to the Old Bailey", The Global Mail, 6 September 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Australian Ideas Worth Spreading". TEDxSydney. 2013-05-04. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Defending West Papuan activism", Australia Network News, 18 December 2012.
  4. "Just cause - News & events - ANU". 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Australian 02/03/2012". 2013-08-29. Retrieved 2013-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Oxford Law :: OPBP: past volunteers". 2011-04-27. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Jennifer Robinson - Featurettes - Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law". Justinian. 2011-10-21. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Julian Assange's homegrown hardnosed lawyer Jennifer Robinson". The Australian. 2012-03-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "News Store". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. "Bertha Foundation". Bertha Foundation. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Just cause - News & events - ANU". 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Jen Robinson TEDx speech". TEDx. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Text of State Department letter to Wikileaks | Reuters". 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  17. 17.0 17.1 "wlr_final.pptx [Lecture seule]" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. WL Central (2011-02-09). "2011-02-09 Security Contractor HBGary Tries to Protect US from Anonymous, WikiLeaks [UPDATE:1". WL Central. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Data intelligence firms proposed a systematic attack against WikiLeaks". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "How Spy Agency Contractors Have Already Abused Their Power". The Nation. 2013-06-11. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "When a WikiLeaks lawyer runs into Eric Holder". 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Twitter / mmhastings: Jennifer Robinson, Assange's". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Carr, David; Somaiya, Ravi (2013-06-24). "Assange, Back in News, Never Left U.S. Radar". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 "Joint Statement of HRLC and ILWP". HRLC. 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "autogenerated1" defined multiple times with different content
  26. 26.0 26.1
  27. 27.0 27.1 Henrietta Cook (2012-04-19). "Assange-link lawyer on 'inhibited' fly list | DFAT | Jennifer Robinson". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Press Association (2012-04-19). "Julian Assange's lawyer 'prevented from boarding flight at Heathrow' | Media". London: Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Jen Robinson at Heathrow Airport, on inhibited persons list". Crikey. 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "Oxford Pro Bono Publico". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Phillip Thomson (2013-01-22). "ANU honour for Assange lawyer". Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "PR Newswire UK: Statement Regarding Lawyer Jennifer Robinson's Interception - LONDON and SYDNEY, April 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/". australia, england: 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2013-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links