Anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson was found guilty of contempt of court last week at a rehearing, and sentenced yesterday to 19 weeks imprisonment with time already served taken into account. Having successfully appealed against his original conviction in August 2018 on purely procedural grounds, Tommy’s case was referred back to the Attorney General for fresh proceedings.
In a reaction familiar to anyone who’s had the misfortune of encountering Tommy’s more enthusiastic fans, his conviction was instantly attributed to a conspiracy of political persecution by the “establishment elites” in retaliation to Robinson apparently exposing their corruption and complicity with regards to Muslim grooming gangs. (How his successful appeal fits into this theory is anyone’s guess. Apparently the establishment so desperately wanted him in prison that they released him from prison.)
An almost perfect crystallisation of these ill-informed and conspiratorial arguments appeared as an article on the website Alt News Media a few days ago entitled Tommy Robinson – Enemy of the State and written by an anonymous author.
Alt News Media claims to be a nonpartisan news outlet dedicated to providing “an alternative to the fake news mainstream media narrative”. What this seems to mean in practice, however, is that they proudly publish scarcely researched and woefully misinformed clickbait propaganda of a distinctly right-wing flavour.
Conveniently the article begins by summarising Tommy’s misadventures with contempt of court by casually omitting any mention of his offenses and skipping straight to his botched sentencing last May. Since the article avoids all mention of Robinson’s myriad infringements, it’s probably worth revisiting the circumstances which led to his conviction:
In May 2018 whilst under a suspended sentence for a previous contempt of court conviction, and in the face of an explicit warning from the judge at Canterbury that he would go straight to jail if he turned up at another courthouse and filmed himself discussing active trials, Robinson turned up at another courthouse and filmed himself discussing active trials.
He live-streamed himself on Facebook aggressively confronting defendants as they attempted to enter the building. He made prejudicial remarks concerning their guilt. He propagated misinformation about the case. He claimed that the defendants were facing charges which had in fact been dropped. He broadcast this material live to an audience of two hundred and fifty thousand people with the urge that they circulate it further, and he did so in contravention of a blanket reporting restriction that he knew to be in place. As such he was found guilty of contempt of court and was swiftly hauled off to jail whereby he was subsequently released on appeal 3 months later pending a retrial to correct for procedural failures.
Yet for reasons which appear entirely inscrutable, Robinson’s supporters were apparently banking on him winning this case.
The arguments offered in his mitigation however are unconvincing at best and demonstrably false at worst. According to the Alt News Media article defending him, Robinson was unaware that a reporting restriction was in effect, or believed it to have expired, and did everything humanly possible to clarify his understanding:
“During the trial, the court heard how Tommy checked whether the trial in Leeds was subject to reporting restrictions in the proper manner and on finding that no reporting restrictions were communicated on the website or court door he ALSO went into the court beforehand to double check for good measure. He was told that there weren’t any reporting restrictions.”
Yes, the court did hear this. However, the court then heard that it was almost certainly complete nonsense and summarily disregarded it. For good reason too. Robinson’s story changed multiple times, becoming substantially more elaborate with each iteration, and included flagrant falsehoods such as his testimony that his sidekick Caolan Robertson checked the court door and video screens inside the building for information on the reporting restriction. As the prosecution noted; at the time Robinson had begun his live-stream, the court was closed to the public and any screens likely to display such information could not be seen from anywhere Robinson and Robertson were able to access. Neither did anybody advise Robinson that reporting restrictions did not exist. He approached a security guard asking if the press ban had been lifted and was told to check with the Crown Court General Office or reception. He didn’t.
As it turns out, there was a lapse in standard practice whereby the press restriction was not listed on the CourtServe website or on the video screens, but this may have served Robinson’s case better and made his appeal to ignorance slightly more believable were it not for his multiple statements of admission to being fully aware of the reporting restrictions and to breaching them. “Now, there’s a reporting restriction on this case” Robinson can be heard to state outright at around the 3 minute mark of his live-stream broadcast along with a series of comments acknowledging the overtly risky nature of his actions. And in the court judgement, Robinson is on record as having said: “going into the trial I had heard there was a reporting restriction”.
Where misreporting of the facts has proven an inadequate defence, misrepresentation of the charges faced by Robinson has been attempted. Many of his base have sarcastically characterised Robinson’s court-step confrontation with the defendants as “saying hurtful things to Muslims”, or as the Alt News Media article puts it: “causing anxiety to child gang rapists” – as though contempt laws exist to protect the feelings of criminals rather than to protect the integrity of trials.
Robinson’s erstwhile Rebel Media boss Ezra Levant, for example, occupied himself by live tweeting the court proceedings, or at least his version of them, in which he summarised the Attorney General’s remarks as a concern for the emotional well-being of rapists and a disregard for their victims.
It’s quite preposterous that this needs pointing out, but the issue with Robinson accosting the defendants is not that he may have upset rapists, it’s that he may have upset the process by which we bring rapists to justice.
Causing anxiety to defendants, regardless of their crimes, is a serious issue. For example: If the defendants in this case believed themselves to be in danger from Robinson, or from the violent mobs he tends to attract, they may well have decided to abscond rather than to risk turning up at court – which, incidentally, is exactly what happened. Thanks to the threat of an English Defence League protest on 1st June 2018 outside the courthouse where Tommy was arrested, and having been previously assaulted by this group on his way into court, rapist Sajid Hussain promptly pulled a disappearing act and had to be convicted and sentenced in his absence. Rather than wallowing in a prison cell serving a 17 year term for horrendous acts of sexual abuse upon minors, Hussain remains at large and is thought by police to have fled the country. Attorney General Andrew Caldecott QC:
“There was plainly a real risk that the defendants awaiting jury verdicts would see themselves as at risk, feel intimidated, and that this would have a significant adverse impact on their ability to participate in the closing stages of the trial.”
The latter half of this statement perfectly elucidates the potential ramifications of causing defendants to feel intimidated. Robinson’s camp have instead dishonestly focused solely on the former half whilst misrepresenting it as an expression of sympathy with paedophiles. Immoral and idiotic in equal measure.
Not only did Robinson’s actions have the potential to prejudice the proceedings but his remarks were similarly biased. Asking defendants if they have “brought (their) prison bags” in mocking tones is prejudicial. It assumes guilt by implying that they should be expecting imprisonment. Expressing dismay that the defendants are failing to display shame or guilt is also prejudicial. It assumes that they have engaged in behaviour that warrants contrition. As a means of mitigating the prejudicial nature of these statements, the occasional use of the word “allegedly” is almost comical in its inadequacy.
“But Robinson can’t have prejudiced the trial as it was finished”, claim his supporters:
Except it wasn’t. At the time of Robinson’s live-stream the jury were considering their verdict – ordinarily the most crucially sensitive moment of a trial – and the trial they were deliberating on was directly linked to a further trial scheduled for later that year and subject to the same restrictions.
“Well he didn’t prejudice the trial – the judge said as much”, generally comes the retort. And it’s true. By nothing more than sheer luck, jurors did not view the video and Robinson managed to avoid prejudicing the trial. But this does nothing to absolve him from engaging in prejudicial behaviour or of that behaviour clearly constituting a contempt of court. The Crown Prosecution Service lays it out in the following manner (emphasis mine):
“The actus reus of common law criminal contempt is an act or omission which creates a real risk of prejudice to the administration of justice. However, it is not necessary that the proceedings are actually prejudiced, and conduct which indicates a wilful defiance of or disrespect to the court, or which challenges or affronts the authority of the court as the guardian of the rule of law will suffice.”
“But that’s nothing different than what the mainstream media do on a daily basis” is another cry made by his defenders:
Again, not true. I know of no mainstream journalist ever having filmed themselves on court premises screaming “nonces” at defendants and then wilfully breaching the terms of the resulting suspended sentence, along with blanket reporting restrictions, and live-streaming prejudicial material during a live trial.
Crime reporter Jason Evans:
“I report from court five days a week, week-in week-out. Been doing so for donkey’s (years). And never committed contempt. The rules are simple, and are there to ensure the integrity of proceedings. He was convicted of contempt of court because he committed contempt of court.”
One of the UK’s Leading lawyers, Chris Daw QC, writing in The Independent:
“In my 26 years of practice in the criminal courts, I cannot recall a more blatant, serious or disruptive contempt of court, by publication, than that carried out by Yaxley-Lennon in this case.”
If it were the case that Robinson had been convicted and jailed for merely reporting in the manner that the mainstream media do, should we not expect to find a single professional British journalist, at the absolute minimum, raising serious concerns that such a ruling criminalises their profession and sets a precedent which endangers their livelihood? Or perhaps journalists are simply trained in contempt law from day one, understand effortlessly what Robinson did wrong, and have absolutely no fear that their daily work is likely to involve similar transgressions.
A slightly more substantial objection from Robinson’s supporters pertains to the charge that he urged his followers to harass the defendants. Upon viewing the footage, any sensible person familiar with Robinson and his pattern of speech, will understand that he was berating the media for their comparatively aggressive stance towards himself and his ideological bedfellows, when contrasted with the supposed kid gloves treatment afforded to Muslim sex offenders. Yet once again, Robinson’s intent is irrelevant. The issue was not that he intended to incite harassment, but that there was a risk of his words being interpreted in this way based on the context of the video. Judge Dame Victoria Sharpe:
“We are sure that what the respondent said in this passage will have been understood by a substantial number of viewers as an incitement to engage in harassment of the defendants.”
In addition to the usual canards, the Alt News Media article also offers up a relatively original point as supposed evidence of Robinson’s unequal treatment:
“Bear in mind that no-one has been imprisoned for contempt of court in the last 60 years.”
I’m assuming its originality, however, is in large part due to its astonishingly flagrant and effortlessly demonstrable falsity. Here are four of the more recent examples I found:
- 2nd July 2019 – Defendant Michael Jones was sentenced to 42 days imprisonment at Hastings County Court on charges of contempt of court.
- 3 July 2019 – Defendant John Ward was sentenced to 8 weeks imprisonment at Bromley County Court on charges of contempt of court.
- 24th April 2019 – Defendant James Bosley was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court on charges of contempt of court.
- 24th April 2019 – Defendant Michael Fabian was sentenced to 107 days imprisonment at Liverpool County Court on charges of contempt of court.
In fact, not only have multiple people been jailed for contempt of court in the last few months alone, but some have been jailed for longer periods than Robinson. Furthermore, based on the numerous cases I reviewed, it appears to be absolutely standard fare for defendants to receive suspended sentences for contempt of court, which is what Robinson was handed the first time around, despite his 11 prior convictions for wide ranging and often violent offenses. Strangely this apparent governmental persecution of Tommy Robinson doesn’t even stretch to imposing disproportionate sentences on him.
But perhaps his very appearance at the Old Bailey constitutes unfair and disproportion severity in his treatment. A meme has been in circulation showing that at the same time as Robinson’s hearing, every other court in the Old Bailey was trying either a murder or serious assault case.
Unsurprisingly this information was compiled based on only the first day of Robinson’s appearance. Had it been based on the second day (5th July 2019) it would have had to show that Court 8 was hearing the case of man accused of uploading an offensive song to Soundcloud.
Unfortunately none of these facts can challenge the emotional narrative that he and his camp have constructed. It’s true that Robinson has long been banging the drum about the sexual exploitation of children by predominantly Muslim gangs whilst most people were unaware of such a phenomenon, and whilst authorities charged with the protection of these children were essentially acquiescing to these crimes in order to refrain from rocking the politically correct boat. It’s in that sense that he could be said to have “exposed” Muslim grooming gangs. It’s also true that a custodial sentence for Robinson regrettably puts him in greater danger than the average prisoner due to his political opinions and his resulting unpopularity with Muslim prison gangs. I sincerely hope that the prison authorities abide fully by their duty to inmate safety. But all of this is entirely irrelevant to the fact that his actions in this instance were pointless, reckless, counterproductive in the extreme, and crystal clear breaches of contempt law.
Let’s summarise what Robinson’s antics outside Leeds Crown Court have accomplished: They’ve needlessly reiterated information which by his own admission is already in the public domain resulting in the “exposure” of precisely nobody. They’ve come close to jeopardising the convictions of child rapists, narrowly avoiding doing so by sheer luck alone. They’ve allowed these rapists to file for a mistrial and provided them with grounds to appeal their convictions. They’ve caused a serial sex offender to flee the country and thereby escape justice. And they’ve once again deprived three blameless children of their fathers company for a period of two and a half months.
This was a textbook case of contempt of court. In fact there are knowledgeable commentators trained on the legalities of journalism who have predicted that Robinson’s case will feature in future editions of literal textbooks on journalism as an almost perfect case study in contravening contempt law and how not to report on criminal trials.
In cases as black and white as this one, the only recourse for Robinson’s defenders appears to be desperate obfuscation.
But whereas outlets like Alt News Media have been content to stick to wholly inaccurate reporting to obscure Tommy’s clear cut infringements and the inconvenient facts supporting his guilt, Ezra Levant seems to have followed Robinson’s lead and made it his business to physically interfere with legal proceedings. He has publicly accused the Attorney General of lying in court, and of sympathising with the feelings of sexual predators at the expense of their victims. In other cases featuring Robinson, Levant has approached and attempted to question police witnesses on camera. He has baselessly and disgracefully accused a police officer in a live trial of being a “perv” with a sexual interest in Robinson’s children. He has been reprimanded on four occasions for his conduct in court, and he has illegally filmed and broadcast a Robinson piece-to-camera from inside the Old Bailey.
Moreover, his live tweets from court invariably misrepresent the prosecutions statements as absurdly as possible, while grossly exaggerating the robustness of Robinson’s defence. This, I would presume, has the effect among his audience of creating the illusion of a great injustice upon Robinson’s almost inevitable and entirely explicable judicial defeats.
Perhaps most egregiously though, Robinson has turned a trial about justice for the victims of rape into a sideshow about himself, and has done so with the assistance of commentators/propagandists like Alt News Media and Ezra Levant. Anyone relying on these outlets as a legitimate source of impartial information is being sold barefaced lies by people whose ignorance of English Law is eclipsed only by their contempt for it.