Judge John Robertson.
Judge John Robertson. John McCutcheon

Prison is a savage punishment

HE has only given life imprisonment to one man.

And he wrests daily on whether people deserve to keep their freedom.

Judge John Robertson is revered as an authority on criminal sentencing but his years sitting in judgment of his peers end tomorrow.

It's his 70th birthday and he jests he's been forced into "statutory senility".

Judge Robertson, who has presided over Maroochydore District Court since 2001, has been a judge for 24 years.

Beginning his career in Ipswich in 1994, he became Queensland Children's Court president in 1999 before the Sunshine Coast gig.

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.

"What has mapped him out as a good judge, and he enjoys a very good reputation across the legal profession, is that he is balanced, thoughtful and not a soft touch but also that he's given a lot of critical thought to the issues of sentencing," long-time friend and former business partner Terry O'Gorman said.

In retirement, Judge Robertson hopes to continue educating the community about law. But without the constraints of the judicial office.

Likely to arise is a topic that regularly circulates in the media and on social media - mandatory sentencing.

Judge Robertson, a reflective man who remembers great detail on many of the cases before him over the years, believes mandatory jail terms lead to personal injustice because they cannot take individual circumstances into account.

Describing prison a savage punishment for anyone, he reflects on the "decent woman" who had undiagnosed postnatal depression after giving birth to a little boy after harrowing years of IVF.

She turned to alcohol to self-medicate and then had another baby boy with her severe depression again poorly treated.

On the way to child care one morning while drunk she crashed into a tree and killed her two-year-old son.

"There are many cases like that which are truly tragic and sad and the criminal law is a blunt instrument when dealing with such complex circumstances," he said.

"Those types of cases are very difficult they can happen to anyone."

Judge Robertson questions how you give the same mandatory life sentence to that woman as you would Daniel Morcombe's killer.

The one man he put in jail for life did unspeakable things to children and he remains etched in the judge's memory. - NewsRegional

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