English Defence League campaigner Tommy Robinson has been jailed 13 months for contempt of court. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, was arrested on Friday after streaming on Facebook Live outside Leeds Crown Court where a trial was ongoing, during which he made comments that a judge decided could ‘prejudice’ the entire trial, potentially forcing a costly retrial at the expense of the taxpayer.
Prejudicing a trial is a natural consequence when there is an offence of contempt of court committed. When an individual interferes with the court’s constitutional role in the course of justice, they may influence the jury’s verdict, rendering such a verdict unfair and compromising the trial as a whole.
Robinson attempted to film defendants entering the Leeds court and spoke about details pertaining to the case itself. There is a restriction in place to prevent reporting on the details of the trial.
Robinson attempted to film defendants entering the court and spoke about details pertaining to the case itself. The Facebook stream was viewed 250,000 times, which meant he had seriously damaged the ability of the defendants in the case to be tried fairly.
Robinson has already been convicted of contempt of court regarding a trial in Canterbury, which led to a suspended sentence. He was warned then by a judge that he would go to prison if he repeated the same offence, and that his actions had led to an unfair verdict in that case. This added 3 months to his initial 10-month sentence for contempt of court in Leeds.
Despite protests outside Downing Street in support of Mr Robinson, he is not being unfairly targeted by some fictitious charges. Contempt of court is a serious offence that anyone can commit, and it is in the best interests of the trial by jury system that offences are vigorously punished. Robinson’s supporters have labelled his arrest as a form of censorship on his right to free speech, but Judge Geoffrey Marson QC highlighted that his ‘encouraging others to share [the video]’ and the fact that it had indeed gone viral as ‘aggravating factors’ in his decision to sentence Robinson to prison. Robinson’s Facebook stream was described as ‘the very nature of the contempt’.