Posted by Thersites on  UTC 2018-05-28 10:14 Updated on UTC 2018-06-14

Arrested – yet again

Tommy Robinson, the UK political activist, is currently in prison. He was arrested for breach of the peace (or something or other, accounts differ) outside Leeds Crown Court on the morning of Friday 25 May.

As he himself immediately noted at the moment of his arrest, a suspended sentence of 13(?) three months in prison was still in force. He had violated that, was brought up before the beak in Leeds Crown Court in short order: 12:22, a couple of adjournments, case closed 14:26 then straight off to Hull Prison with him.

His supporters were understandably outraged that their Tommy had once again had his collar felt. There is a feeling among his fans that whenever he turns up in public the police do whatever is necessary shut him down PDQ. The feeling is probably quite justified.

There is also concern at the rapidity of the proceedings against him that were so expeditious that not even his own solicitor had time to attend the hearing. The forces of law and order certainly do not love Tommy.

The judge who sent him down at Leeds Crown Court last Friday issued a media reporting restriction on the proceedings. The mainstream media anyway keep their distance from Tommy Robinson – the 'far-right founder of the English Defence League' being the usual public formulation. Most of the few who had mentioned his arrest took down their pieces almost immediately, even Breitbart.

For his supporters, that restriction order caused the paranoia meter to hit the stop at the red end. The Orwell Free Speech Organ was started up and cranked heftily – a martyr was born. There was a 'Free Tommy' demonstration at the gates of Downing Street on Sunday and an online petition has received a large number of signatures. The Drudge Report in the US took up the issue, which means that Tommy's cause now has global reach.

Time to pause for breath and consider what is happening here.

Innocent until found guilty

In an open trial in a UK court the media can sit in and issue day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour reports on the progress of the proceedings.

For the first half of the trial we hear the prosecution case being built. At the end of this phase the public is probably thinking that the accused should be taken immediately to another place and hanged by the neck etc.

In the second half we hear the defence case being built – the dodgy coppers, the fumbled forensics etc. At the end of this phase the public is probably thinking that the police and a few people from the Crown Prosecution service should be taken immediately to another place and hanged by the neck etc.

Then the jury has a think, makes a decision, and the accused is then pronounced 'guilty' or 'not guilty' (we are carefully avoiding the word innocent at this point). We all know what happpens then in either case.

In these proceedings there is the ancient presumption of 'innocent until found guilty'. Fair minded people – of whom there are still one or two around – will then do their best to forget about all the nasty things they heard about the accused during the prosecution's case. What matters is the jury's verdict – however erratic or absurd that may have been.

During the course of the trial the media may take photographs or make videos of the accused on the way to the trial or outside court. But for obvious reasons no reporter would ever attempt to challenge or interview the accused in these circumstances.

However, more and more trials are being held under the lid of reporting restrictions. The public doesn't get to hear the prosecution's case or the defence's case. Only the verdict enters the public domain. If the verdict is 'guilty' then the entire contents of the bucket of ordure filled by the prosecution during the trial can be tipped over the guilty person(s). The judge will also add some choice thoughts, too.

This is no place to go into the ins and outs of why reporting restriction orders are issued in the first place. It may very well be that the use of this instrument is being extended beyond its original purpose, but we have to accept the current, real-world status.

To pacify the paranoid, who are probably throwing things are their monitors at the moment, I would say that reporting restrictions do have a chilling effect on cases where there is a legitimate public interest.

As we have seen, the issues raised at a normal, open trial will bubble along nicely in the media for the duration of the case. The only time a case being held under restricted reporting gets its fifteen minutes of fame is after the verdict. It is effectively kept out of the public domain for a long time, thus stifling or compacting public discussion. Once the verdicts are in, the goldfish memories of the public and the media ensure that the issue fades quickly from the public consciousness.

Crossing the line

In Leeds a 'grooming gang' or 'ring' is currently on trial. This trial is being held under reporting restrictions for whatever reason: possibly the youth of the victims, possibly a concern that the accused may be subjected to mob justice, possibly a concern that they will not get a fair trial, perhaps a bit of all three.

Nevertheless, during this trial we have to keep saying to ourselves: 'innocent until found guilty', however much the charges against the accused disgust us.

In the interests of mobilising public opinion against the cultural phenomenon of grooming gangs – a laudable activity for which we should all be grateful – Tommy Robinson and his supporters have let their disgust take them across the line. Tommy has been filming and even challenging the defendants in front of the court as they arrive for the trial. The videos are being live-streamed on the internet – that is, they are immediately published.

Whatever we may think of the accused and their alleged crimes, Tommy Robinson's actions break the law and those who still believe in the principle of 'innocent until found guilty' should have no sympathy for what he was doing. After a severe warning and a suspended sentence for one occasion, he repeated the offence and is now banged up. He is not being gagged.

His supporters are spitting fire at the imposition of a non-reporting order on his own case. They should note that the term of the order only extends for the duration of the trial of the members of the grooming gang – that is, it is part and parcel of ensuring that the accused in that case get a fair trial and are not molested in any way that might lead them to compromise themselves or their defence.

He shouldn't be in prison – but if he ignored the danger he has only himself to blame. It has to be said: Tommy Robinson's very brave and strong activist career has been founded on his habit of getting himself arrested. It might be time for him and his advisors to listen to Don McLean's words: 'But strong men often fail / Where shrewd men can prevail'.

I hope he is released soon and I hope that he takes a shrewder tack after that.

Update 28.05.2018

Guido has the same opinion:

FoS image, size 708x783

The file name of the image on the site is simply: 'idiot-robinson.png'.

Update 28.05.2018

For the avoidance of all doubt, here is the full transcript of the judgement against Tommy Robinson (real name: Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) that earned him the initial sentence of three months' imprisonment, suspended for eighteen months on 22 May 2017. It is all worth a read, but I have put the takeaway quote in bold.

Guido was right: Tommy Robinson is an idiot.


Canterbury Crown Court,
The Law Courts,
Chaucer Road,
Kent, CT1 1ZA

Monday 22nd May 2017
HER HONOUR JUDGE NORTON (Honorary Recorder of Canterbury)

The PROSECUTION were not represented
MR. R. KOVALEVSKY and MR. A. KING appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT


Transcript of the DARTS recording by Marten Walsh Cherer, 1st Floor, Quality House, 6-9 Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1HP. Telephone 020 7067 2900. Fax: 020 7831 6864

Monday 22nd May 2017 (At 4.30 p.m.)


JUDGE NORTON: Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, you can remain seated. Thank you very much. Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, on 8th May of this year in the course of ongoing proceedings for allegations of rape faced by four defendants at this court, that trial still in fact being in progress, you attended, together with another, and carried out some filming. That filming was firstly on the steps at the front of this court building and, secondly, inside this court building, although of course I readily accept there was no filming or attempt to film inside a courtroom. The only person who was filmed was effectively yourself. It was, as Mr. Kovalevsky has described it, a to-camera piece in both instances.

Both of those to-camera pieces, however, were then subsequently published on the internet, in various forms as I understand it, but under the heading: "Tommy Robinson in Canterbury exposing Muslim child rapists, Police help them escape".

Your intention in being at this court and in carrying out the actions that you did was, on your own account, to film the defendants. You were not able to do so because it had come to my attention, via the good offices of my security staff, that you were present and what you were doing, and as a consequence I gave directions in order to ensure that both the jury, and in due course the defendants, were escorted from court by different routes in order to avoid there being any kind of confrontation or interference. That was not a decision that I took lightly, because, of course, diverting the jury from anything other than their usual route may have given rise to questions in their mind about what was going on and why.

When you were outside the court you were within the precincts of the court. When you were in the court building you were, of course, self-evidently in the court building. There are notices all over the court building making it clear that filming or the taking of photographs is an offence and may be a contempt of court. You were told very clearly by security staff at this court that you were to stop filming and that if you were to film then you would be potentially committing an offence and may be held in contempt of court.

I have been told, and Mr. Kovalevsky places great emphasis on this point, that at a previous court building you were told the opposite by members of court staff and by the police. I have seen evidence of that and of course I accept that.It is his assertion, therefore, that you would not have known or not had reason to know that what you were being told on this occasion was correct as opposed to the last. I am also told that it was not your intention to frustrate the court process, in fact it was the opposite of that.

The starting point, as we have discussed in the course of this case, has been section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which makes it an offence to take any photograph in court. There has been much discussion of that provision. It is perhaps unhelpful, and I say this really for the lawyers' benefit, or anyone in future rather than yours, that where that particular section is reproduced in some of the more commonly used practitioner books such as Archbold or Blackstones, that commas are variously moved around and, therefore, depending on which book one reads it may state that "no person shall take or attempt to take in any court any photograph, or with a view to publication make or attempt to make in any court any portrait or sketch of any person, being a judge, juror or witness or party to the proceedings", or it could be read as "take or attempt to take in any court any photograph or with a view to publication make or attempt to make any portrait or sketch of any person being a judge in the court, juror or witness or party to the proceedings".

Most of the cases that come before the higher courts do involve the taking of photographs of jurors or of defendants, but in my limited researches not all of them have done, and there appears to me to be at least grounds for supposing that it is correct that it is an offence under section 41 "to take or attempt to take in any court" by which that means not only the courtroom but also the building and the precincts, any photograph, irrespective of who that is a photograph of, and I refer in that regard to the case of the HM Solicitor General v. Cox (2016) EWHC 1241, where it would appear that at least one of the defendants in that particular case had been taking photographs in court but not of a particular party.

It seems to me, therefore, that on a reading of section 41 that you have committed an offence under that section. But, whether you have or have not, and even if I am wrong that you have, there are the wider summary powers of the court to deal with contempts which are in the face of the court as that has been defined in its wider sense.

These were deliberate actions on your part. They were deliberate actions intending to take photographs of the defendants; they were actions which you continued to take, despite having been told that you should not do it, and I find, as a clear logical inference, that your intention on coming into the court building was to seek out the defendants, who you referred to in the way in which we have all seen and heard. That is one reason why it seems to me that this situation is rather different from that situation in Luton Magistrates' Court to which I have been referred. You made it abundantly clear, indeed it is abundantly clear that your mission and purpose was to try and film the defendants. The fact that you failed to do that was because we were able to take avoiding action. You then continued to film in the court building, even though you had been told not to, and these matters were then published on the media with, as I am aware, a very wide viewing rate, referring to the defendants by their religion and referring to them as "Muslim child rapists" or "Muslim paedophiles", depending on whether I am reading what it is that you have written or what it is that you have been saying; indeed on the video footage from inside the court building we can hear you say that the paedophiles are hiding, that the police have asked you not to expose them as paedophiles but you say "we will"; and when you discover that they have been taken out of the back door you talk about ‘going round to their house’, and again, the intention of getting them on camera.

This contempt hearing is not about free speech. This is not about the freedom of the press. This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another. It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly. It is about ensuring that a jury are not in any way inhibited from carrying out their important function. It is about being innocent until proven guilty. It is not about people prejudging a situation and going round to that court and publishing material, whether in print or online, referring to defendants as "Muslim paedophile rapists". A legitimate journalist would not be able to do that and under the strict liability rule there would be no defence to publication in those terms. It is pejorative language which prejudges the case, and it is language and reporting - if reporting indeed is what it is - that could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial. As I have already indicated, because of what I knew was going on I had to take avoiding action in order to make sure that the integrity of this trial was preserved, that justice was preserved and that the trial could continue to completion without people being intimidated into reaching conclusions about it, or into being affected by "irresponsible and inaccurate reporting". If something of the nature of that which you put out on social media had been put into the mainstream press I would have been faced with applications from the advocates concerned, I have no doubt, to either say something specific to the jury, or worse, to abandon the trial and to start again. That is the kind of thing that actions such as these can and do have, and that is why you have been dealt with in the way in which you have and why I am dealing with this case with the seriousness which I am.

I am rightly reminded that everything else that has gone on in this trial by other groups or other individuals in similar attempts to ‘get at’ (to put it in shorthand)the defendants is not something that I should take into account, and that of course is quite right. There is no evidence at all to suggest that you were in any way involved in any of those other actions and I do not in any way hold you responsible for them. But it is part of the background, and it is part of the reason why I had to take the avoiding action that I did take and why I had to move to take the action insofar as you are concerned of having you brought to this court.

I find that this was the commission of an offence under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, but even if I am wrong about that I do find clear evidence of contempt of court in this case, for the reasons that I have given.

You have apologised for what it is that you have done. I am told by Mr. Kovalevsky, and indeed by Mr. King on an earlier occasion, that there was a degree of naivety, if I can put it that way, about your actions and lack of understanding about the seriousness of those actions. I have to say I find that really rather difficult to accept at face value, given your background.

I have been told, however, and accept, because I have seen video evidence of it, that you have previously been given different advice at a different court about what you could or could not do, although I repeat again, the circumstances and context in which that other advice was given was wholly different to that which existed in this court and your intentions in respect of that other matter were wholly different to your intentions here. Moreover, notwithstanding anything you may have been told elsewhere, at this court you were told in clear and uncertain terms on more than one occasion that you could not film.

The question therefore comes down to what the appropriate disposal should be. In my judgment, an apology, although it is an apology which I accept and for which I thank you, is not sufficient. Neither do I feel in this case that a financial penalty is appropriate. It seems to me that this does need to be met with a custodial sentence. The only question in my mind is whether it might, in the circumstances and bearing in mind that which Mr. Kovalevsky has told me, and which I accept from him about the potential dangers that you might face were I to send you into custody immediately, and bearing in mind the need to ensure that this trial is kept on track, and bearing in mind the fact that, as he says, you will now be under no illusions whatsoever as to what you can and cannot do, whether it might be possible in your case to suspend the sentence of imprisonment which I would otherwise have imposed.

Would you stand up, please. I take, as I hope has been made very clear by the comments that I have made, a very dim view indeed of your conduct which was in the face of repeated warnings that you should not do that which you did do. I accept what Mr. Kovalevsky tells me about the dangers that you might face were you to be sent into immediate custody. I have to say it is on a knife edge so far as I am concerned because a very large part of me thinks so what? you could be put into protective custody. But, my concern is to make sure that this trial keeps on track, and my concern is also to make sure that other courts with other trials in similar situations are kept on track without any danger of repetition of the kind of conduct that we have had visited upon us here.

The sentence, therefore, that I pass upon you, taking into account all of those matters that have been placed before me and your admissions entered via Mr. Kovalevsky, is one of three months' imprisonment which will be suspended for a period of 18 months. That will be suspended. There will be no conditions that need to be attached to that suspended sentence, but you should be under no illusions that if you commit any further offence of any kind, and that would include, I would have thought a further contempt of court by similar actions, then that sentence of three months would be activated, and that would be on top of anything else that you were given by any other court. In short, Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as "Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists" and so on and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand? Thank you very much.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Your Honour, may we extend our thanks for the patience with which you have heard us this afternoon.

JUDGE NORTON: I am very sorry that we have gone on so late. Thank you very much for bearing with this rather lengthy case. Thank you both very much indeed for your help. Finally, can I just say this to Mr. -- I don't know whether it is Robertson or Robson who has just left the court, or indeed to anybody in the public gallery: I hope they have heard what I have said. There are real risks in publication and there are real risks in what is put online, and I hope that everybody will respect the judgment of this court and will not be tempted to do anything which might frankly, unwittingly or otherwise, either impede this trial or might land Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, or indeed themselves, in even more trouble.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Quite. Your Honour, there is no prosecutor and so your Honour is placed in a peculiar position, because, of course, normally the Crown would assist your Honour, but they are not here. Given the fact that the trial is in fact ongoing and I understand at a rather sensitive juncture.


MR. KOVALEVSKY: I am just wondering as to whether the judgment which has been taken down so assiduously, including by the person who has sprinted from the court, whether the attention of the court has been drawn to the court's powers to postpone the publication of this judgment.

JUDGE NORTON: Yes. Not only has it, but indeed on the last occasion when Mr. King was in front of me I put a prohibition in any event on the reporting of these matters---


JUDGE NORTON: --- until the conclusion of the trial.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: And that stays in place.

JUDGE NORTON: That stays in place, and certainly I have already had one member of the press coming to seek to clarify that with me, and that does include this gentleman. There was some question as to whether or not there could be some reporting if it was simply done in an anodyne way without reference to this particular trial. I cannot, I have to say, see that it would benefit the press to do that. I would have thought that if they are going to report it they would want to report it fully, at which they are nodding. So we are at a sensitive juncture, the jury are expected to retire tomorrow, so we will have verdicts later this week, so I do prohibit publication of any matter relating to these proceedings until the conclusion of the trial.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Your Honour, as I thought, your Honour didn't need any help at all.

JUDGE NORTON: No. But thank you very much indeed.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Thank you.

JUDGE NORTON: Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, you can step out, thank you very much. If you want to step outside that is fine.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Might he leave the court?

JUDGE NORTON: Yes he can, although Mr. King may want to re-emphasise some of the things that I have said to him.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Or he can sit at the side.

JUDGE NORTON: Or sit at the side. If I can call them, and I don't mean to be disrespectful, I know that these days I am way behind the times when it comes to the media and we probably shouldn't refer to mainstream and non-mainstream media, but the prohibition on publication (Mr. Hooper will be very helpful on this) does that prohibit the publication in any form of media?

MR. HOOPER: Yes, your Honour.

JUDGE NORTON: So that would include therefore web or TV, for example.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: Yes, and also tweets and the like.

JUDGE NORTON: And tweets and the like.

MR. KOVALEVSKY: It's blanket.



JUDGE NORTON: Thank you.


JUDGE NORTON: Let's close the court then, please, unless there are any other matters.


JUDGE NORTON: Thank you. MR. KOVALEVSKY: Thank you.

(4.53 p.m.) ------

Marten Walsh Cherer Ltd. Tel: 020 7067 2900

I certify that I have faithfully transcribed this part of the proceedings in R v Yaxley-Lennon and that the said transcript is true and correct, to the best of my skill and ability.

Member, British Institute Verbatim Reporters

Update 29.05.2018

Now the reporting ban on Robinson's (Yaxley-Lennon's) contempt case has been lifted a sensible discussion of it can take place at last. A particularly knowledgable discussion is to be found at the Secret Barrister.

The reporting restrictions on Yaxley-Lennon's case were reasonable in order to protect the current trial – but unrealistic: all that has happened is that the information vacuum has been filled by knuckledraggers, who have had four days in which to turn the issue into a brainless, worldwide fatuity in pursuit of their own conspiracy theories. Even the Powerline people, who are lawyers and so really should know better, got caught up in the tide of nonsense that was swilling around the internet.

Sooner or later, pundits who tie their flags to Yaxley-Lennon's mast are going to be let down hard.

Update 14.06.2018

An example of the chilling effect on public discussion that reporting restrictions in the UK have.

Yesterday we heard about the sentencing in the case of a gang of eight Muslim men who groomed and sexually assaulted young, vulnerable women between 1998 and 2005 in Oxford.

The case is not only very serious in itself, it is the latest in a long series of similar cases in various parts of the United Kingdom involving gangs of men whose defining characteristic defeats polite expression: Asian? Muslim? Pakistani community? Men with beards? Men?

The only common factor seems to be that the men treat the girls heartlessly as unworthy scum but are practised at making their vulnerable victims feel loved and respected. Then it's in the back of the van with them.

But, be honest, did you know anything about this case in the City of Dreaming Spires before the verdicts were made public? No?

It was conducted over a period of months under reporting restrictions. The verdict now pops up in carefully composed pieces in the media. The report in MailOnline to which we linked above gives a few brief details of the offences from all those months of evidence. The article provides a list of similar cases from the last few years, but without drawing conclusions. The usual cluster of related stories was missing.

No commentator on MailOnline has so far touched the topic. The question of why it has taken thirteen years since the last offence was committed (as far as we know) actually to sentence the perpetrators is neither posed nor answered. Readers' comments are being moderated – readers can use what language they choose about some rat on Love Island but should be circumspect in expressing their opinions about a man who 'was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 12 years for multiple counts of rape and indecent assault' on young women.

Today, one long day after MailOnline's piece was published, the article appears to be no longer on the home page and can only be found using the search function. It has, in other words, sunk without trace.

So far the case also seems to be far below the elevated gaze of the clever and cultured people in The Spectator. Not a word. Even Breitbart gives it only a single piece on their UK website and then moves on.

Only the obsessives (such as Tommy Robinson and his supporters) will remember it. That is, until the verdicts in the case currently taking place under reporting restrictions in ***** [see above] are announced, when we shall experience the same procedure as in every case in the series: chilling out.

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