Tommy Robinson walks free after court challenge but could still face jail
Three leading judges in London quashed a contempt finding made at Leeds Crown Court in May.
Former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson has been released from prison but could still face jail over an allegation that he committed contempt of court by filming people in a criminal trial and broadcasting footage on social media.
Three leading judges in London quashed a contempt finding made at Leeds Crown Court in May, and granted Robinson conditional bail from a 13-month jail sentence pending new proceedings at the Old Bailey.
Robinson left HMP Onley in Rugby on Wednesday afternoon after being freed by Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Mr Justice Turner and Mrs Justice McGowan in London earlier in the day.
The judges – whose decision was greeted with a round of applause by supporters in the packed courtroom – said that a fresh hearing should be held “as soon as reasonably possible”.
Robinson may be sent back to jail after the judges rejected his lawyers’ argument that there should not be a fresh hearing because he has already served the equivalent of a four-month sentence.
Lord Burnett said that, if found in contempt of court at the fresh hearing, Robinson may even be given a longer jail term.
He said: “First, the alleged contempt was serious and the sentence might be longer if a finding is again made against the appellant” and added: “Secondly, and in any event, a determination of the underlying contempt allegations in the circumstances of this case is in the public interest.”
The judge said the maximum sentence available for breaching a contempt of court order is two years’ imprisonment.
As he was collected and driven away by two of his supporters, Robinson told reporters: “All the British media do is lie. I have a lot to say but nothing to you.
“I want to thank the British public for all their support.”
Support for Robinson has also come from outside the UK, with followers from as far afield as Istanbul and Washington sending him almost £20,000 worth of Bitcoin, including a payment of more than £5,500 which passed through his Bitcoin wallet on the day he was jailed.
Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, Breitbart and Robinson’s former employer, Rebel Media, also flocked to his cause over the last two months, alongside high-profile figures including Donald Trump Jr and actress Roseanne Barr, and internet personalities associated with the so-called alt-right.
In London, the judges said they were satisfied that the decision at Leeds to proceed to committal to prison “so promptly”, and without “due regard” to rules governing the procedure to be followed when a Crown Court deals with the conduct of a person alleged to have acted in contempt of court, “gave rise to unfairness”.
Lord Burnett announced: “We allow the appeal and remit the matter to be heard by a different judge. There is no requirement that it be heard in Leeds…
“We invite the Attorney General to nominate an advocate to appear at the fresh hearing.”
He ordered that Robinson’s bail have the condition that he does not approach within 400 metres of Leeds Crown Court.
The judges had been urged to overturn two contempt of court findings against Robinson, 35, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon – the one made at Leeds Crown Court and an earlier finding at Canterbury Crown Court.
Robinson was jailed in May after he filmed people involved in a criminal trial and broadcast the footage on social media.
The footage, lasting around an hour, was watched 250,000 times within hours of being posted on Facebook.
The far-right activist was given 10 months for contempt of court, which he admitted, and a further three months for breaching a previous suspended sentence.
The judgment said Robinson was detained outside Leeds Crown Court after using social media to broadcast details of trials involving 28 Asian men which is subject to blanket reporting restrictions.
In May last year he had faced contempt proceedings over footage he filmed during the trial of four men who were later convicted of gang-raping a teenage girl.
A judge at Canterbury Crown Court gave him a three-month suspended sentence and told him his punishment was not about “freedom of speech or freedom of the press” but about “justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly”.
Lord Burnett, giving reasons for the court’s decision relating to the Leeds Crown Court allegation, said that once Robinson “had removed the video from Facebook there was no longer sufficient urgency to justify immediate proceedings”.
The judge at Leeds should not have commenced contempt proceedings that day.
Lord Burnett said “no particulars of the contempt were formulated or put to the appellant”, and there was “a muddle over the nature of the contempt being considered”.
He added: “Where a custodial term of considerable length is being imposed, it should not usually occur so quickly after the conduct which is complained of; a sentence of committal to immediate custody had been pronounced within five hours of the conduct taking place.”
The judges announced they had dismissed Robinson’s appeal in respect of the contempt finding at Canterbury Crown Court.