Saturday, 6 July 2019

Stephen Laxley-Lennon ~ Guilty of contempt of court

Updated 9 July 2019  - with link to High Court reasons.

Updated 11 July 2019 - sentencing

The Attorney-General's Office has announced that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka "Tommy Robinson") has been found guilty of contempt of court following a trial held at the Old Bailey before Dame Victoria Sharp P (QBD) and Warby J.   Dame Victoria Sharp was appointed President of the Queen's Bench Division upon the retirement, at age 70, of Sir Brian Leveson.

The contempt proceedings have an interesting and quite lengthy history.

Crown Court at Leeds - 25 May 2018:

In April 2017, Kirklees Magistrates' Court sent a number of men, accused of serious sexual offending against young females, for trial
at the Crown Court - Huddersfield Examiner 12 April 2017.  The Crown Court decided that there would be three trials.   This was entirely sensible given that there were 29 defendants in total - Examiner 11 May 2017

On 25 May 2018, the second of the three trials had reached the point where the jury had retired to consider verdicts. The third trial was fixed for a date later in 2018.

An obvious problem with holding separate trials is that reporting of an earlier trial or trials could prejudice the outcome of a later trial or trials.  For this reason, the Crown Court imposed a Postponement Order under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s.4(2) - " ... the court may, where it appears to be necessary for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings, or in any other proceedings pending or imminent, order that the publication of any report of the proceedings, or any part of the proceedings, be postponed for such period as the court thinks necessary for that purpose."

On 25 May 2018, Mr Yaxley-Lennon (YL) decided to broadcast via Facebook Live from outside the Crown Court at Leeds.  His broadcast lasted for over an hour and took place as defendants in the second of the three trials arrived at court.   Finally, YL was arrested (actually for breach of the peace) and, the same day, was dealt with for the contempt by the trial judge His Honour Judge Marson QC.  YL was committed to prison for 13 months - 10 months for the conduct at Leeds and 3 months due to activation of a suspended term imposed at Canterbury in 2017.  The Canterbury judgment (Her Honour Judge Heather Norton QC) is HERE and YL was clearly warned that a further contempt of court would result in the suspended term being activated.  The May 2018 judgment of Judge Marson does not appear to have been published.

Counsel acting for some of the defendants in the second trial made an application to have the trial jury discharged but this was rejected by Judge Marson - The Independent 5 July 2019.

This previous post looked at the events at Leeds on 25 May 2018 and also took a general look at contempt of court.

Court of Appeal:

On 1 August 2018, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) - Lord Burnett CJ, Turner and McGowan JJ - dismissed YL's appeal in respect of the committal for contempt at Canterbury Crown Court but allowed his appeal in respect of the committal for contempt at Leeds Crown Court.  YL was granted bail and the matter of contempt at Leeds Crown Court was remitted to be heard again - read the judgment.

The Court of Appeal remarked - para 83 -

The judgment shows the importance which English law places on the need for courts to follow the correct procedure, no matter the individual(s) involved - see Keep Calm and Talk Law

Referred to the Attorney-General:

On 23 October 2018, YL attended the Old Bailey for the trial ordered by the Court of Appeal - previous post.  The trial was listed before the Recorder of London, His Honour Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC.  Counsel for YL submitted that the case should be referred to the Attorney-General who is able to bring contempt proceedings.  At such proceedings witnesses could be called.  The judge adjourned the case on that basis.

Attorney-General decision:

It was not until 7 March 2019 that the Attorney-General announced that there were grounds to bring fresh proceedings against YL and that it was in the public interest to do so.

Trial at the Old Bailey - 4 and 5 June 2019:

YL stood trial at the Old Bailey on 4 and 5 June.  Contempt of Court proceedings are dealt with by judges without a jury.  YL was found guilty by Dame Victoria Sharp P (QBD) and Warby J.

The announcement from the Attorney-General's office notes that the Attorney General was granted permission to bring proceedings on the basis of:
  1. Publishing information that was subject to a restriction prohibiting any reporting of the trial until a later, related trial had concluded
  2. Publishing a video encouraging his followers to harass the defendants, creating a substantial risk that their rights would be seriously impeded
  3. Illegally photographing and intimidating defendants as they entered court
The court indicated that it will give reasons for its decision and set a provisional date for sentencing of 11 July.

Protests took place outside the Old Bailey and, on Twitter, there was some irresponsible comment.  For example, Gerard Batten MEP posted - "An unbelievable verdict at the Old Bailey. Tommy Robinson found guilty on three counts of contempt of court. Sentencing next Thursday. This is a travesty of justice. A political verdict on trumped up charges. What kind of country are we now living in?"

Only the most uncritical admirers of the legal system can be content at the way in which this case has progressed but it has to be noted that the law of contempt exists to protect the administration of justice and a central feature of that is the right to a fair trial for ALL defendants. YL's actions on 25 May 2018 presented a serious risk to that and it is a type of conduct that ought to be condemned.

As for the Huddersfield sex offenders - see the Guardian 19 October 2019  and 1 November 2019.

Update 9 July 2019:

The High Court's reasons for finding against YL are published by the Judiciary Website - pdf 31 pages.

Update 11 July 2019:

YL was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment in respect of the contempt at Leeds.  The Canterbury suspended sentence (3 months imprisonment) was activated in full.  Therefore 9 months in total.   See announcement from the Attorney-General.  The 10 weeks served previously will be taken into full account.  The outcome was 19 weeks imprisonment.  Release from this type of imprisonment is normally at the halfway point.

The court's reasons for sentence are published via Bailii

The Guardian 11 July 2019


Judicial College guidance on Reporting Restrictions -…  

HM Solicitor General v Cox and Parker-Stokes [2016] EWHC 1241 (QB) - "The Solicitor General brings these committal proceedings against the respondents, Kyle Cox and Damien Parker-Stokes, with the permission of the Divisional Court, Irwin and Foskett JJ, granted on 20 October 2015. He seeks their committal to prison for taking photographs in court at Bristol Crown Court, including photographs of their friend, Ryan Sheppard, during his sentencing hearing for murder. Committal is also sought for their publishing some of the photographs on Facebook, a contempt aggravated by comments, variously supportive or worse, of Sheppard as he faced life imprisonment, critical of the acquitted co-defendant of Sheppard and of another female present at the murder scene, and derogatory towards a judge or the judiciary generally."


  1. With apologies for cross-posting. This is a comment I've posted on another thread.
    I've read the Judgment handed down earlier this week, and there are quite a few problems with it, IMHO.
    Firstly, they condemn TR for being 'reckless' by not enquiring to find out what the terms of the Reporting Restriction Order (RRO) were, but they fail to mention that the RRO in question fails (in contravention of the Guidance) to specify its scope, so even if TR had seen it, he would in all probability have proceeded with his livestream because he was following the Judicial Guidelines, which state that the reach of a s4(2) order doesn't extend to commentary or to publication of information already in the public domain.
    The judges have tried to deal with this problem by claiming that the Judicial Guidance was wrong!!!!
    They go into quite a lot of detailed argument about why they think it's wrong, but to my mind that's totally irrelevant. The fact is that TR was doing his best to follow the Guidelines and, not being a lawyer or a judge, it didn't occur to him that the authors of the Guidelines may not have meant what they stated in the guidance. I don't believe that a fair and just court would condemn an ordinary person for acting on this guidance, believing it to be true. To hold TR to a higher standard of knowledge of the intricacies of legal interpretation is extremely unjust.
    This latest ruling also seems to be conflating the 'strict liability rule' (s.1 of the Act) and s.4, which deals with reporting restrictions. They have condemned him under the strict liability rule, but have failed to demonstrate convincingly that what he did represented a substantial risk that the course of justice would be seriously impeded. In addition, one is not guilty of contempt under the strict liability rule "in respect of a fair and accurate report of the legal procedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith" (Law Commission report on Contempt Law),
    One might quibble about the accuracy of what was reported (as per Ian Grace's unsubstantiated assumptions about the charges being changed), but it seems to me that the judges can't have it both ways. Either he shouldn't have been reporting at all because of the RRO (but they can't make a convincing argument that the administration of justice was prejudiced by anything TR said because an Appeal on the basis of that claim by one of the defendants was denied) or he created a SUBSTANTIAL risk of SERIOUSLY impeding the course of justice under the strict liability rule. (But they're failed to demonstrate that this was the case either.)
    Altogether, I conclude that this is a travesty. I'm not a lawyer, but in the course of my career I've read many a legal judgment, and, in my opinion, this one is really badly drafted. I'm usually impressed with the clarity the higher judges bring to complex legal cases, but not in this case. Far from bringing clarity to the law, these two judges (in their apparent eagerness to convict) have muddied the waters considerably.
    As such, i believe they've done a disservice not only to TR, but to society as a whole.

    1. Altogether, I conclude that this is a travesty. I'm not a lawyer, but in the course of my career I've read many a legal judgment, and, in my opinion, this one is really badly drafted. I'm usually impressed with the clarity the higher judges bring to complex legal cases, but not in this case. Far from bringing clarity to the law, these two judges (in their apparent eagerness to convict) have muddied the waters considerably.

      As such, i believe they've done a disservice not only to TR, but to society as a whole.

      The problem you have with credibility on this argument is the coincidence that you don't like their conclusion, while claiming flaws in the reasoning.

      This looks most like "motivated reasoning", and without citing actual passages that you claim are unclear (with references to the actual law), you will not be taken seriously.

  2. Hi Sandy, please can you clarify what you mean with "Unsubstantiated assumptions about the charges being changed?"

    I have the following comments on your post:

    My understanding is that following publication in the Huddersfield Examiner, various charges were changed and others dropped amongst the 29 Defendants during the course of proceedings - SYL did not know who faced what charge in which Trial but assumed guilt nevertheless.

    SYL referred to the fact that reporting restrictions were in place during his live stream, 60-63 of the Judgment if I recall correctly.

    He may have done his best to follow the guidelines - lying when it suited him to do so ref: Caolan Robertson once a mate now an infiltrator who would not send him the photo - but he didn't follow the guidelines by aggressively approaching defendants and questioning them, assuming guilt - and live filming them within the precincts of the court.

    The course of justice was impeded because of his interference with the defendants.

    At the outset of these shenanigans I had a bet with a legally trained lawyer who tried to patronise me and tell me that SYL would not be found guilty of Contempt; I argued that he would be and we bet an expensive bottle of Whiskey.

    Anyway please come back to me only unsubstantiated assumptions, given that further charges were brought by the AG. To the contrary I think it was in the public interest that well-intentioned but ignorant self-promoting oiks like SYL should know that the right to free speech does not trump the right to a fair trial.