The legal profession is patiently explaining to the far right why jailing Tommy Robinson is not a conspiracy

Tommy Robinson
Emily Apple

On Friday 26 May, ex-English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson was arrested while live-streaming outside Leeds Crown Court. He was subsequently imprisoned for 13 months for contempt of court and breaching a suspended sentence.

Since then, the far right has spouted a lot of conspiratorial nonsense. And the legal profession has taken to Twitter to patiently attempt to explain why these people have got it completely wrong.

The “media blackout”

First up, there was the so-called media blackout. Robinson’s supporters screamed about a “media blackout” and “secret courts”. There was indeed a temporary reporting restriction in place over his imprisonment:

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But this was to protect the trial Robinson was live streaming from, not to hush up the fact of his arrest. As one lawyer pointed out, contempt laws exist to ensure defendants have fair trials:

And as Stephanie Finnegan, a journalist who covered the case, highlighted:

Barrister Adam Wagner, meanwhile, argued that Robinson’s actions were purely self-motivated:

In fact, Robinson’s interference with a previous trial (for which he received the suspended sentence), risked causing the case to collapse.

No legal advice

Others from the ‘poor Tommy brigade’ claimed he wasn’t given proper legal advice. Luckily, lawyers were on hand to correct them. Conservative councillor and lawyer Gareth Anderson stated:

Meanwhile, ‘The Secret Barrister’ put Twitter users straight on how the law works:

And as they further pointed out, the rules on contempt are different:

Ignorance is not bliss

As a former barrister pointed out, much of the ignorance shown is due to people not having a basic understanding of the law:

The Secret Barrister, meanwhile, has written an account of what people should know about the case. But here are a few bullet points from a journalist who’s spent a lot of time in courts:

  • Contempt of court laws exist to ensure defendants have a fair trial. As journalists, we respect this law as it means we do not prejudice the outcome of court cases.
  • Robinson was arrested for breach of the peace but ended up being sentenced for contempt of court. This is common practice. The police often arrest for one offence but pursue another once they and the Crown Prosecution Service have looked at the evidence.
  • Robinson pleaded guilty and was sentenced straight away. Again, this is common practice with a guilty plea, especially one that activates a suspended sentence.
  • He received legal advice and was represented. Although they can apply for “audience rights“, most solicitors cannot represent defendants at Crown Court. This is done by barristers. There is no such thing as a “prosecution barrister” for a defendant.

The serious side

Robinson’s actions may be both idiotic and self-serving. But he is gathering support. At the time of writing, a petition calling for his release has over half a million signatures.

So let’s be clear. This is not an attack on free speech. This is not an attack on freedom of the press. Tommy Robinson is not a martyr. And there are no grand conspiracies regarding his imprisonment.

And it’s down to all of us to challenge this nonsense and make sure it’s not used to further the cause of the far right.

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