Right-wing activist and former leader of the English Defence League Tommy Robinson has been released from prison on bail. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, had an appeal to quash his May conviction for contempt of court upheld, and he will now face a retrial before a new judge.
Robinson and his case have long split opinion in the UK and beyond. Many argue that Robinson has been jailed simply for speaking a truth which the political and legal establishment did not like, while critics claim Robinson’s rhetoric amounts to no more than hate speech. This divide was reflected by remarkable scenes in London, where the appeal was being heard, as protesters for both sides exchanged abuse. There was also jubilation among his supporters, many of whom began singing and dancing in the streets at the news that his appeal had been upheld.
Robinson had been arrested, tried and sentenced to 13 months in prison in just five hours’ time in May of this year, after he had filmed an hour-long Facebook Live video outside Leeds crown court. In the video he posted, Robinson reported on an ongoing trial and filmed the defendants, despite blanket reporting restrictions being in place for the trial. Judge Geoffrey Marson QC had deemed that Robinson’s breaking of such restrictions ran the risk of influencing the jury’s decision. He was given 10 months for the offence, along with an additional three for transgressing a suspended contempt of court sentence.
Successful appellant Tommy Robinson (Source: PA)
While in prison, Robinson appealed both the recent Leeds conviction, and the earlier one resulting in a suspended sentence, which was issued in May 2017 at Canterbury crown court. Robinson’s lawyers argued in both cases that he had not been fully made aware by the presiding judges of which of Robinson’s specific actions constituted contempt of court. Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett dismissed his appeal of the Canterbury verdict, stating that Robinson’s counsel “had taken a tactical decision not to ask the judge spell out in full the specific actions constituting contempt”, as well as noting that no prior complaint had been made about this lack of clarification.
However, Lord Burnett upheld Robinson’s appeal of his Leeds conviction. The essence of this decision was that Judge Marson had rushed Robinson’s trial when there was no need to do so. The only urgency in his case was that Robinson’s video may have influenced the jury in the ongoing trial, yet Robinson offered to remove the video from Facebook before the jury – who had retired – would have had a chance to see it. According to Lord Burnett, having the video removed from Facebook meant there was no reason to try and sentence Robinson with such speed. Doing prevented Robinson from being informed as to which of his actions actually constituted contempt of court, as well as stopping him from mitigating his actions and thus having an effect on his sentence.
TOMMY WON AND WILL BE RELEASED TODAY!
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) August 1, 2018
That racist and bigot Tommy Robinson has been released from prison. MSM should not give him any airtime so he can promote his hatred. He should be banned from public events for inciting racial hatred.
— Nadeem Ahmed (@Muqadaam) August 1, 2018
The important thing for Robinson’s sympathisers and detractors to take away from today’s ruling is that it says absolutely nothing about his guilt or innocence. No matter how much it may be celebrated in some quarters and bemoaned in others, Robinson has not ‘won’, nor is this a victory for ‘free speech’ or a defeat for ‘tolerance’. All Lord Burnett has decided is that the process by which he was tried and sentenced was unfair to the defendant, and that his trial must take place again under more equitable conditions. While some may argue that it is evidence of the prejudice the justice system has against Robinson for his controversial views, it is equally evidence that it is capable of recognising that such prejudice took place, and was wrong. Whether the decision was right or wrong, it was made with a view to ensuring that everyone, from heroic crusader to hate preacher (even if they are the same person), is treated equally in the eyes of the law. Only Robinson’s new trial can decide whether he is guilty.