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The Tyrannicide Brief

“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.”
Geoffrey Robertson

Geoffrey Robertson

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 quartered.

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 action.

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 London.

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 in the
Chatto & Windus Press Office on 020 7840 8592 or


© 2005 Geoffrey Robertson QC
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