I wrote here about the strange case of Tommy Robinson, and Scott followed up here. The case is strange indeed: Robinson was live-streaming on Facebook from the street in front of a courthouse in Leeds where a number of defendants were on trial for rape. Reportedly, he was reading the names of the defendants and the crimes with which they were charged.
That was enough to bring out the paddy wagon. Police officers descended on Robinson, arrested him on “suspicion of breaching the peace,” and hauled him off to court. Within a matter of hours he had been imprisoned for contempt of court. Not only that, the court issued an order barring all UK press outlets from reporting on Robinson’s arrest and imprisonment.
If that doesn’t bother you, your civil libertarian instincts have atrophied. Yet it appears that only conservatives are troubled by Robinson’s incarceration; the world’s establishment has closed ranks against him. This is what you see if you enter “Tommy Robinson” in Google News. Click to enlarge:
Apparently only the “alt-right,” “U.S. Rightwingers” and “the right-wing outrage machine” care about the blatant suppression of free speech and normal criminal process that characterize the Robinson case. I was curious about Time’s article, headlined: “Why Tommy Robinson Was Jailed, and Why U.S. Rightwingers Care.” Time writes:
The right-wing campaigner was arrested and jailed on Friday outside a controversial trial in northern England.
No explanation of why the trial was “controversial,” even though news outlets were forbidden to report on it.
He is active in the global far-right, writing and broadcasting for Canadian far-right channel Rebel Media
You can never say “far right” too often. That means he is skeptical of the wisdom of mass Muslim immigration to Great Britain.
…and his arrest on Friday on suspicion of breaching the peace outside a court in the U.K. attracted tweets of protest by right-wing activists and commentators around the world.
The link on “right wing commentators” goes to my Power Line post.
Time explains that Robinson broke the law by reporting on “details of the trial,” although this claim seems doubtful based on other reports:
By filming defendants and discussing details of the trial while broadcasting via a livestream, Robinson was breaking the court-ordered restriction on media. As he was already serving a suspended sentence for filming outside another trial in May last year, he was jailed for 13 months.
In the U.S., reporting on ongoing trials is usually protected by the First Amendment.
A local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, has an up-to-date report:
A court order is currently in place temporarily banning any reporting on the trial, including its status as ongoing, so the press will not be able to reveal details until later this year.
So British newspapers aren’t supposed to report that the rape trial is taking place.
At the time of the Facebook Live, jurors were in the process of considering verdicts after hearing six weeks’ of evidence.
And a court order had also been in place temporarily banning any reporting on Robinson’s arrest and sentencing hearing, but Hull Live can now reveal the details.
A court order temporarily banned any mention of Robinson’s court proceedings but our colleagues at LeedsLive challenged the order and today (Tuesday) the judge agreed to lift the reporting restriction in regards to Robinson’s case.
Eventually, the 35-year-old was arrested on suspicion of a breach of the peace and was held in the court cells before being taken up to the courtroom to face the trial judge.
In a rare move, he was arrested, charged and sentenced within five hours.
Emphasis added. Is it really true that British news media can’t report anything about a trial in progress, even, as Robinson reportedly was doing, naming the defendants and itemizing the charges against them? I haven’t had time to research this in depth–although I think I have seen any number of news reports on British trials–but this is the BBC’s account:
Once proceedings are ‘active’, anything which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in these proceedings will be seriously prejudiced or impeded will be a contempt of court.
In most criminal cases, proceedings become ‘active’:
* On the arrest of a suspect
* When an arrest warrant is issued
* On the issue of a summons (in Scotland a complaint) or indictment. This may be well before a person in charged
* When a person in charged.
Obviously, the Leeds criminal case was active. So the question is whether Robinson’s live-streaming from outside the courthouse “creates a substantial risk that the course of justice…will be seriously prejudiced or impeded.” It is hard to see why this standard would be met.
So in the U.K., an unpopular activist who stands outside a courthouse talking about the fact that a criminal trial is taking place, and naming the defendants and the charges against them, is subject to arrest for contempt of court, and can be hustled off to jail in a matter of hours with no meaningful fact-finding or opportunity to defend. And newspapers can be barred, and have been barred, from reporting on the activist’s arrest and incarceration.
This is obviously not the American way, and I seriously doubt whether it is the British way in any case that doesn’t involve Islam. But evidently, as is so often the case when it comes to free speech, no one cares except us “right wingers.”
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