In late May I said the following regarding the arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson:
Robinson has not been arrested for filming outside a court building, he’s been arrested because he embarrasses the ruling classes.
The fact Robinson was originally arrested for breach of the peace and later that changed to prejudicing a trial shows the authorities aren’t really interested in what they charge him with provided he ends up behind bars.
Whereas one could have expected the usual suspects to be chortling with glee over Robinson’s predicament, I felt rather too many people who ought to have defended him were secretly glad he’d been found guilty of contempt of court because that meant they didn’t have to. A lot of people thought, provided he’d been found guilty by a judge, then guilty he was even though it was obvious that the whole thing stank to high heaven. At best, one could see Robinson had been singled out for punishment; at worst, one suspected the police and judiciary were under political orders to get Robinson behind bars ASAP.
I knew it was bad, but I only began to understand just how bad when I listened to James Delingpole’s podcast with Canadian conservative Ezra Levant: his description of Tommy Robinson’s treatment at the hands of the British state sounds like something from a Cold War documentary about Eastern Europe. I urge you to listen to it, just to get an idea of what a stitch up it was. It is an absolute, utter disgrace and as Levant asks, where were the media in all of this? Where was Amnesty International, who worked so tirelessly on behalf of the jihadists in Guantanamo Bay? Or Reporters Without Borders, who seem awfully silent on the fact a man was jailed for making a video on his iPhone on public property outside a court. The reason is these sorts of organisations are made up of people who, secretly and not so secretly, are happy he’s behind bars. Whatever principles these organisations adopted got jettisoned a long time ago, and we should remember that whenever they’re cited as a moral authority on anything.
Anyway, I’d just finished listening to the Delingpole podcast when I saw on the news that Robinson had been released after appealing his most recent sentence. The full judgement is here, and it makes for grim reading if you’re someone who wishes to convince others that Britain isn’t becoming a banana republic. Consider this:
The appellant, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson
for political purposes, was committed to prison for a total of 13 months on 25 May 2018
for breach of an order made under section 4(2) of the 1981 Act.
Imprisoning someone for 13 months for contempt of court is unprecedented and, as Levant explains in the podcast, Robinson was moved from HMP Hull to HMP Onley, which is notorious for its Muslim prison gangs. Why he was moved and who authorised it is not public knowledge, but in a country where the process is the punishment, it is impossible to rule out vindictiveness. As such, Robinson had to enter solitary confinement for his own protection; I doubt anyone will be held accountable for this.
Now I don’t have the legal knowledge to do a proper analysis of the appeal court judgement, but this is pretty damning:
At no stage were particulars of the alleged contempt put to the appellant for him to accept or deny them.
For some years now people have expressed deep concern that employees or students suspected of wrong-think have been subject to a Kafkaesque process during which the accused was never told what they did wrong (the case of Lindsay Shepherd is a good example). This method of getting rid of non-conformists is becoming ever-more common, and I’d even argue it’s standard in many large corporations; it certainly seems to be the case in universities. Am I therefore surprised the British judicial system has followed the same path? Given the direction of travel, no I’m not. With people like Blair, Cameron, and May running the country it was only a matter of time.
That hearing began with reference to the appellant’s antecedents and was followed by mitigation.
It seems the judge had already decided Robinson was guilty and all that was left was his counsel to argue mitigation. This is important because many of Robinson’s detractors in the media and elsewhere thought they held a trump card because he’d plead guilty to contempt of court. Turns out, he did no such thing – nor was he even given an opportunity to do so.
Which brings me onto our old friend The Secret Barrister, whose pomposity and sneering at Robinson and his supporters was overlooked by those willing to do so on the grounds that at least the legal analysis was sound. The entire premise of The Secret Barrister’s original post was that objections over Robinson’s treatment were the ill-informed ravings of knuckle-dragging racists and he, a respected barrister with impeccable anti-racist credentials, would explain why they were wrong and it was all above board. But as I said at the time, the purpose of the post was not so much to inform as to signal the author’s virtue, and now he’s been found out big-time. He’s written a post following the appeal court ruling, and if you have the patience to wade through more than four thousand words you finally get to the bit where he says he was wrong:
So I hold my hands up – imperfect information makes for imperfect predictions. But is there a wider issue here, among me and other legal commentators? Were we too quick to dismiss the case with a “nothing to see here” wave of the hand, blinded by the unappealing nature of Robinson’s supporters and the organised maelstrom of fake news stirred up here and abroad? Maybe we were.
Not maybe: you were, and you owe them all an apology. Now either you knew this case stank but you pretended it didn’t, which makes you dishonest. Or you didn’t know what a blind man a mile away could see, which makes you incompetent. Which is it? Sadly, all we get is this:
I’d suggest, self-servingly, that an inaccurate but well-meaning prediction – such as we all make in the courts every day – is lesser a social evil than the deliberate, racially-tinged misinformation campaign that we do our best to counter.
Translation: “Good people like me defending a horrendous perversion of justice that saw a man jailed is less of a social evil than the objections of lower class oiks who were right all along.” And I think that sums up The Secret Barrister and his ilk rather nicely; all those who cited this charlatan’s post as a basis for their own views on Robinson’s imprisonment ought to take a long, hard look at themselves.
On the wider point, what disturbs me most about the actions of the judge who treated the case as a criminal matter, rammed the whole thing through in five hours without due process and tossed Robinson in jail, is that he must have known exactly what he was doing. He must have also known that, should Robinson appeal, he will come in for some heavy criticism. Despite this, he did it anyway, brazenly and blatantly, confident he will face no repercussions and that he will have the full support of the establishment, the media, and the chattering classes. The judge and those whose instructions he was following probably knew Robinson would get out on appeal, but believed the process would be enough of a deterrent for Robinson and others who might also consider embarrassing the ruling classes. And if he got himself beaten up or killed in prison, so much the better. This is not a justice system worthy of the name, and heads should roll. They won’t of course, and the authorities will be better prepared next time they need to silence an inconvenient voice. One lesson they will have learned, much to their delight, is they can count on the full support of a huge number of British people for whom maintaining middle-class sensibilities is more important than justice. I fear we’ve not seen the last of these cases, not by a long shot.