Judge John Robertson.
Judge John Robertson. John McCutcheon

Theatrics, drama for 'Priscilla of Ipswich' on judgment day

THE first day he sat in judgment of his peers is etched in his memory.

Judge John Robertson was wearing gifts to celebrate his appointment - a wig from a retired supreme court judge and mentor Bill Carter and another judge's jabots. It was 1994 at Ipswich District Court.

"So I had on these frilly jabots and Bill's wig and I was standing there outside next to my acting associate, I was so nervous," he said.

"I'm waiting for the call and for some reason I did a big swing, probably my theatrical background, and of course all the robes did a big turn.

"I said 'how do I look?' and he said 'Priscilla of Ipswich'. It was a mighty good thing to say and that's what took me into my first trial."

Tomorrow is Judge Robertson's final day working for the District Court of Queensland before he goes into what he jests is "statutory senility".

That also means it is his 70th birthday - the age judges can no longer sit on the bench.

But that first trial was "disastrous".

A little girl, claiming her uncle had indecently touched her, had been set up. When she admitted under questioning that her mum had told her to lie, the courtroom became chaos.

"Mum jumped over the railings and tried to attack the defendant," Judge Robertson described.

"The poor old police officer, I think, had been dozing. He grabbed her and they fell on the ground.

"I said to the bailiff, take the jury out. Jurors were ashen faced. The bailiff was getting them out in such a hurry that he slammed the door on his finger and broke it."

Judge Robertson was shaking when he returned to his chambers.

"I really had doubts and wondered what I had got myself into," he said.

The trial did not proceed the next day - with the prosecutor withdrawing the charge.

Since then, Judge Robertson has conducted about 500 jury trials, more than 3000 sentence hearings, hundreds of civil trials and chamber hearings, and countless civil and planning appeals.

He has made a name for himself as an authority on sentencing, helped pave the way for child witnesses to testify outside the courtroom so they feel less intimidated and has worked hard to install restorative justice in Queensland.

In retirement on the Sunshine Coast where he has spent the majority of his time on the bench, he hopes to continue educating the community about law. But without the constraints of the judicial office. - NewsRegional

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