Background: Last year Tommy Robinson was given a three-month suspended sentence for contempt of court over a gang rape case heard in Canterbury. Judge Heather Norton suspended the sentence for 18 months on the condition he did not commit further offences.
Contempt of court is a criminal offence that can see people jailed for speeches or publications that create a “substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced”.
Since being given that suspended sentence, Tommy has continued his career as an investigative journalist, focusing on events associated with problems raised by Islam in the UK. He has covered Islamic terrorism, the suppression of free speech about problems associated with Islam and political correctness (itself often associated with misrepresenting the threat from Islam) and, of course, the terrible epidemic of sexual abuse of English girls by Muslim men across the UK but mainly in England.
It was Tommy’s campaign to expose Muslim grooming and sexual abuse that brought him to Leeds where three trials are underway.
Tommy’s arrest in Leeds
We do not know who it was who ordered Tommy’s arrest in Leeds. It seems a fair bet that the constables on duty outside Leeds Crown Court would not have been aware of the details of the suspended sentence given to Tommy a year ago in Canterbury. Someone put them up to arresting him for a “breach of the peace”.
Tommy’s safety in prison
As we understand it, Judge Geoffrey Marson, sitting at Leeds Crown Court where he is presiding over one of the three trials, has exercised his discretion in un-suspending the previously suspended 3-month sentence, adding an additional penalty of ten months, and refraining from ordering the prison service to ensure Tommy Robinson is provided with sufficient protection in prison to ensure his safety.
Freedom of the press
Freedom of the press is an important principle. But there are other freedoms and principles that may override freedom of the press. Freedom of legal processes, including criminal trials, from outside interference and influence is integral to the British system of justice.
Integrity of trials – particularly grooming trials
Judge Marson has a record of acting decisively to protect the integrity of the trials over which he presides. Good on him. The current trials in Leeds are bound to be complex with links between individuals and events across all trials. It is possible that the jury in a later trial may be prejudiced by opinions expressed outside the court as well as evidence presented in the court. It is the judge’s responsibility to minimise the risk of this happening.
- defendants in one of the three trials are already reported to be planning to plead a mistrial based on Tommy Robinson’s reporting of them as if they were guilty as charged.
- Nazir Afzal has written on Twitter recently that the notorious Rochdale trial was under threat of being aborted because defendants were planning to make a case that jurors could have been prejudiced by statements made outside the court.
The public outrage
There has been a storm of outrage on social media about Tommy Robinson’s arrest and imprisonment. This outrage has been stoked by deliberate misreporting and irresponsible “fake news”. However, the outrage is justified as it stems from the the wide public awareness of police mishandling of the grooming, rape and child sexual abuse. It is a bitter fact that Tommy was arrested by West Yorkshire Police, a force that has itself come under criticism for its handling of sexual grooming and abuse in Bradford and Keighley over many years.
Rod Liddle wrote in The Spectator: “Wouldn’t it have been lovely if the West Yorkshire Police had acted with so much rigour and alacrity when they were first told of the horrific sexual assaults taking place within their community?”
The public know that not all trials and convictions of Muslim groomers, rapists and child sex abusers are reported. The public sense they are being conned and they depend on Tommy Robinson and the EDL to get information out which otherwise goes unreported or under-reported.
Was Tommy Robinson done over?
The demonstrations in Whitehall and Hyde Park and the continuing social media uproar – both here in the UK and overseas – show that there is widespread feeling that he was.
- Contempt of court? The 1981 Contempt of Court Act applies to all publications that create “a substantial risk” that the course of justice will be “seriously prejudiced”. While we would not dare question Judge Geoffrey Marson’s legal competence, there can surely be no contempt in asking why the honourable judge felt that such repressive action was necessary, proportionate or even just. Is our faith in our legal system so fragile?
- Natural justice – A person accused of any crime whatsoever must have their day in court for justice to be done and seen to be done. Coverage of trials and fair comment on them is also enshrined in English law and tradition. The public and the institutions of democracy are best served when both principles are scrupulously observed.
- Open justice – The sooner more information is made public about the events surrounding Tommy Robinson’s arrest and imprisonment the better. There must be sufficient information to satisfy the outraged public that their freedoms and access to information are not threatened by his arrest and silencing.
- One law for all – We need credible assurances from the top of government that Muslims charged with child sex abusers and their associates are not a protected species.
- Freedom of the press – Now is the time for Theresa May to state clearly that her government celebrates investigative reporting.
- The safety of Tommy Robinson – Tommy’s safety in prison must be taken with the utmost seriousness by the authorities.
We and the rest of the world are watching very closely.