What is contempt of court and why was Tommy Robinson guilty of it?

Joe Gamp
Contributor, Yahoo News UK
Why was Tommy Robinson found guilty of contempt of court? (PA)

Tommy Robinson has been jailed for nine months for contempt of court by breaking a reporting ban around a sexual exploitation case.

Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - filmed men accused of the sexual exploitation of young girls and live-streamed the footage to Facebook, in breach of a reporting ban.

The former English Defence League (EDL) founder was handed the sentence at the Old Bailey on Thursday after senior judges found him guilty of contempt outside Leeds Crown Court in May 2018.

Tommy Robinson with Katy Hopkins as he arrives for his sentencing at the Old Bailey in London (PA)

What is contempt of court?

Contempt of court legislation exists to ensure the fairness and integrity of criminal trials.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 states that contempt arises when there is a “substantial risk of serious prejudice”.

With regards to the Robinson case, an order may be made under section 4(2) of the act to postpone reporting of a trial until its conclusion, when a judge believes it is necessary.

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A judge is required to balance the interests of justice in a fair trial taking place with other interests including free speech and open justice.

Why was Tommy Robinson found to be in contempt?

A reporting restriction was put in place to postpone the publication of any details of the exploitation case until the end of a series of linked trials involving 29 defendants to ensure all received a fair trial.

By filming defendants and broadcasting the footage on social media, Robinson was in breach of the reporting restriction.

Robinson was jailed for nine months for filming defendants involved in a high profile case - and nearly caused the trial to collapse (PA)

Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Warby found Robinson in contempt in three respects.

What was wrong with what Robinson did?

The judge said Robinson’s behaviour almost caused the trial to collapse, meaning the guilty men would have walked free.

Lawyers for two of the defendants argued the video meant the jury would not be able to reach a fair verdict and should be disbanded.

Tommy Robinson outside the Old Bailey in London after being found in contempt of court by High Court judges for filming defendants in a criminal trial and broadcasting the footage on social media.

The judges concluded that Robinson had breached reporting restrictions imposed on the trial, by live-streaming the video from outside the public entrance to the court, and by “aggressively confronting and filming” some of the defendants.

The penalties for contempt are imprisonment, a suspended sentence or an unlimited fine. The offence carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

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