Former EDL leader Tommy Robinson has been sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for contempt of court, with his sentence to be reduced to take into account time he has already served in jail.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was found guilty of three types of contempt last week. This is the second time he has been found guilty of contempt in relation to this incident, his first conviction having been overturned on appeal as the Court of Appeal found that the correct procedure had not been followed. Robinson also admitted contempt of court in relation to a separate incident at Canterbury Crown Court in early May 2017, for which he received a suspended sentence.
The case related to a trial in which a number of men were accused of (and ultimately convicted of) sexual exploitation of girls and young women in the Huddersfield area. Robinson Facebook live-streamed from outside the trial at Leeds Crown Court, on a morning when the jury were out considering their verdict. The live-stream was viewed over 250,000 times. In the live-stream video, Robinson discussed the trial, aggressively confronted the defendants on their way into court, asking amongst other things: ‘‘You got your prison bag with you?’’, and encouraged viewers to harass a defendant: ‘‘You want to harass someone’s family? You see that man who was getting aggressive as he walked into court, the man who faces charges of child abduction, rape, prostitution – harass him, find him, go knock on his door, follow him, see where he works and what he’s doing. You want to stick pictures online and call people and slander people, how about you do it to them?’’
The trial was the second of three related trials, and there was a reporting restriction in place postponing the reporting of the trial until after its conclusion and the conclusion of the related trials. The first form of contempt was a breach of this reporting restriction.
The second form of contempt was that the publication of the video created a substantial risk that the course of the trial and related trials would be seriously impeded. This is the strict liability rule, which applies whenever proceedings are active. The court found there was a real risk of harassment of defendants and that the defendants would feel intimidated such that this would have a significant impact on their ability to participate in the trial.
The third form of contempt was interference with the administration of justice, by confronting some of the defendants aggressively as they arrived at court, and openly filming. Robinson was found to have filmed within the ‘precincts’ of Leeds Crown Court – such filming is prohibited by law. The filming was not akin to a tourist taking a photograph in a court building in ignorance of the prohibition, rather its nature was so serious that it amounted to contempt of court.
Although the men in the Leeds trial were convicted, defence lawyers had sought to have the jury discharged after the incident, and one of the men had sought permission to appeal his conviction, on the grounds that both the live-stream video and the protests relating to Robinson being imprisoned for contempt had prejudiced his trial. Both applications were refused.
The court rejected Robinson’s claim that this was an interference with his freedom of speech, affirming that contempt laws are compliant with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They are lawful restrictions carefully designed to protect fair trial rights.
Robinson has claimed that he has been jailed for ‘journalism’, and his supporters reacted angrily, with confrontations with the police outside court.
In sentencing the judge said that ‘‘nothing less than a custodial penalty would properly reflect the gravity of the conduct we have identified’’, and went on to say that Robinson had ‘‘lied about a number of matters, and sought to portray himself as the victim of unfairness and oppression’’.