“It is doubtful whether any English author,
even today, can approach the King’s trial without some antagonistic
sentiment – it just seems so wrong to have cut off the head of
the only English monarch who cared about culture.”
THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF
Published by Chatto & Windus, 6th October
2005, priced £20
The Tyrannicide Brief introduces a new national hero:
a man whose astonishing life has been hitherto almost entirely overlooked.
John Cooke was the radical barrister who dared to prosecute Charles I – for
which presumption he was, at the restoration, tried at the Old Bailey
and disembowelled in the presence of Charles II.
Geoffrey Robertson, the QC whose own Old Bailey career
involved his exposure of political scandals such as Iraqgate, jury vetting
and “Cash for questions”, reveals the truth about the men
who briefly made England a republic. In a radical re-evaluation of the
evidence, he shows how historians have fundamentally misunderstood the
momentous events in Westminster Hall in 1649, when John Cooke charged
the King with the crime of tyranny.
Cooke has been condemned as a regicide, a traitor, a
stooge of Cromwell and the moving force behind an unlawful trial, in which
the verdict was a foregone conclusion. In a passionately argued vindication,
Geoffrey Robertson exposes the truth that history has never dared tell;
that the trial of Charles I was fair, that the King was guilty as charged,
and that Cooke’s landmark prosecution secured Parliamentary supremacy
and upheld the rule of law.
Cooke began life as a farmer’s son from Leicestershire,
but despite his plebeian status, he managed a scholarship to Oxford and
the Inns of Court. Geoffrey Robertson shows Cooke as a man of principle,
and a brilliant lawyer. Defending the Leveller John Lilburne, Cooke asserts
for the first time the accused’s right to silence and was the first
to suggest a legal aid system, a land registry, a national health service
and a host of legal reforms that would only come to pass centuries later.
He was also among the first to insist that poverty was a cause of crime.
It was his puritan conscience, political vision and love of civil liberty
which gave him the courage to bring the King’s trial to its dramatic
conclusion: the English republic. It also brought about his own downfall,
and his terrible fate at the Restoration, when he was hanged, drawn and
Cooke’s crime was to be the first to conceive
of an offence of tyranny. He was briefed by Parliament to end the “impunity” of
rulers. Robertson explains how the trial of Charles I – the first
trial of a head of state – was the precursor of proceedings against
Pinochet and Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. At Cooke’s own Old Bailey
trial in 1660, he was the first to rely on the “cab rank rule” that
is now recognised as the bedrock of a barrister’s duty to accept
any brief, however dangerous to his career (or in Cooke’s case,
to his life).
Bold, moving, gripping and persuasive, The Tyrannicide
Brief brings the past alive to speak to the present, and puts forward
a passionate argument for the people’s right to bring tyrannical
leaders to justice.
About the author: Geoffrey Robertson
QC is a leading human rights lawyer and a UN war-crimes judge. He has
been counsel in many notable Old Bailey trials, has defended hundreds
of men facing death sentences in the Caribbean, and has won landmark rulings
on civil liberty from the highest courts in Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth.
He has appeared before Old Bailey juries in some of the most celebrated
trials of our time, including Oz, Gay News, The ABC Trial, "the Romans
in Britain" and the Brighton bombing. He led for the Defence in the
Matrix Churchill trial and for The Guardian in the Hamilton/Greer libel
He was involved in cases against General Pinochet and
Hastings Banda, and in the training of judges who will try Saddam Hussein,
and is also Head of Doughty Street Chambers, a Master of the Middle Temple,
a Recorder and visiting professor at Queen Mary College, University of
His book Crimes against Humanity has been an
inspiration for the global justice movement, and he is the author of an
acclaimed memoir, The Justice Game (available in Vintage), and
the textbook Media Law.
He is married to the writer Kathy Lette: they live with
their two children in London.
Geoffrey Robertson is available for interview
around publication and to write articles.
For further information please contact Ruth Warburton
Chatto & Windus Press Office on 020 7840 8592 or