Contempt: EDL founder Tommy Robinson jailed for contempt of court

English Defence Legal founder Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) has been jailed for 13 months for contempt of court. Robinson filmed and broadcast a Facebook live video of himself outside Leeds Crown Court. In that video he attempted to film defendants entering court and made comments which risked causing an ongoing trial to collapse. Robinson pleaded guilty to contempt in relation to the video, which was viewed over 250,000 times.

There is a reporting restriction in place preventing reporting of details of the trial in question, something Robinson made clear in the video he was aware of. There was also a reporting restriction relating to Robinson’s arrest and the contempt proceedings. However this was lifted after it was challenged by Leeds Live and The Independent. The judge lifted the reporting restricting after hearing that news of Robinson’s arrest and inaccurate information about what had happened had already spread on social media and on overseas websites.

This is not the first time Tommy Robinson has been found guilty of contempt. In May 2017 he was given an 18 month suspended sentence at Canterbury Crown Court. In that case he had attempted to film defendants in an ongoing rape trial. In handing down the suspended sentence the judge made very clear to Robinson that if he did anything similar again he would be sent to prison.

The case sparked protests and allegations that free speech was being supressed. However, it is simply a normal application of the rules of contempt that are in place to ensure jurors aren’t prejudiced, or trials have to be abandoned. Those reporting trials in the media will be well aware of the rules of contempt relating to criminal trials, and the strict liability it imposes. One must always take care reporting ongoing trials, particularly where reporting restrictions are in place, and take legal advice as necessary. As this case reminds us, contempt laws do not just apply to mainstream media outlets, but to everyone.