In Depth

Why Tommy Robinson’s contempt case is so complicated

Former EDL leader’s hearing delayed again

A High Court judge retrying far-right activist Tommy Robinson for contempt of court has referred the case to the attorney general, the Government’s top legal adviser.

Former English Defence League (EDL) leader Robinson could have been sent back to jail if he had been found guilty of contempt for filming people in a criminal trial in Leeds and broadcasting the footage on social media.

But no sooner had this week’s hearing at the Old Bailey begun than Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC ruled the case needed to go higher up for further consideration.

Robinson, who appeared under his real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was then released on bail.

Why was Robinson on trial?

The 35-year-old’s brief appearance in court on Tuesday “was the latest in a long-running case that began in 2017”, says the BBC.

About 1,000 of his supporters, plus some opponents, gathered outside the Old Bailey to greet Robinson following his release. 

“His supporters were jubilant, hailing him as some kind of martyr for free speech,” according to BBC reporter Dominic Casciani.

“I believe I acted in good faith within the parameters of the reporting restriction,” Robinson told the crowd. He then went on to attack mainstream media outlets as the crowd chanted “scum” and “shame on you”, The Independent reports.

What is Tommy Robinson accused of?

In 2017, Robinson filmed four men outside Canterbury Crown Court who were later convicted of gang-raping a teenage girl.

The trial was subject to reporting restrictions that meant the identities of those on trial could not be made known. A judge subsequently gave Robinson a three-month suspended sentence for contempt of court.

Then in May 2018, Robinson was accused of filming a Facebook Live video that broke another set of blanket reporting restrictions on a series of linked grooming gang trials in Leeds.

He was sentenced to 13 months - “ten months for the contempt of court in Leeds and a further three months for breaching the previous suspended sentence”, reports the BBC.

During his appeal this week against that ruling, Judge Hilliard said the footage also allegedly “gave rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice”, which is a separate form of contempt of court.

“Yaxley-Lennon contests both allegations,” the judge added.

Why has the case been passed up to the attorney general?

The decision came after Robinson “proposed to give evidence in his own defence”, says The Guardian.

Robinson argued in his statement to the court that “he had not intended to interfere with the administration of justice, that he was unable to access specific details of the reporting restriction in place that day, that the information relating to the trial under way at Leeds was already in the public domain, and that he had relied on guidance from the judiciary website that courts have no power to prevent publication of material that is already in the public domain”, the newspaper reports.

Judge Hilliard said the decision to refer the case to the attorney general would allow Robinson’s arguments against the contempt charges to be heard in a proper adversarial setting, in which a lawyer could present evidence and question witnesses to make the case.

“It may be necessary to look at quite a lot of the detail of what Yaxley-Lennon said in the broadcast [featuring the alleged contempt] as to come to the overall picture as to what happened,” Hilliard continued.

“I’m satisfied in the light of the issues as they now appear... that cross-examination of Yaxley-Lennon is necessary for a proper and thorough examination and resolution of the case that is in the public interest.”

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