Ever since Tommy Robinson was summarily arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned on May 25 – for the supposed offense of having live-streamed a Facebook report from outside a courthouse in Leeds where members of a Muslim rape gang were on trial – the British left and its allies abroad have been arguing that justice was done. And it’s not just the left that has defended this sham. As I noted on June 5, three of Britain’s most prominent conservative critics of Islam joined in the pile-on: columnist James Delingpole, UKIP founder Nigel Farage (who pronounced that “the judge had almost no choice but to give him a jail sentence”), and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan (who affirmed that “Tommy Robinson belongs in prison”).
In my June 5 piece, I failed to notice a fourth conservative who cheered Robinson’s imprisonment. In a May 30 blog entry, Londonistan author Melanie Phillips declared that not just Robinson’s supporters “but a number of well-known commentators and other public figures in America, Britain and elsewhere now look very silly as a result of their unfamiliarity with English legal procedure….Unfortunately, the rules safeguarding a fair trial in Britain are simply not understood at all in the US, where such restrictions on what can be said during criminal proceedings are totally unknown and the right to free speech under the First Amendment carries all before it.”
Phillips wasn’t finished with the topic. On July 17, she took to the pages of the London Times with an ardent piece defending Tommy’s quick-as-a-blink transformation from free man to convict. “It’s said that the length of his sentence was wholly disproportionate,” she wrote. “Given the seriousness of his repeated offence, it was in fact wholly unremarkable.” Again, she singled out Americans: “People in the US and elsewhere simply refuse to acknowledge that Britain has stringent rules prohibiting things being said or done which may prejudice a fair trial. They dismiss this as irrelevant and evidence of British absurdity. They say they know that injustice has been done here. Their ignorance is exceeded only by their arrogance.”
Ignorance and arrogance! Well, it will be interesting to see what Phillips and the other champions of the wisdom of the Leeds Crown Court have to say now. On Wednesday, in London, Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and two other judges issued a remarkable ruling in which they totally trashed the actions of the Leeds court. Some excerpts from the official summary of the judgment: “court agrees that the judge should not have commenced the hearing of contempt proceedings that day. Once the appellant had removed the video from Facebook, there was no longer sufficient urgency to justify immediate proceedings.” Moreover, “[t]here was a muddle over the nature of the contempt being considered….There was no clarity about what the appellant was admitting or on what basis he was being sentenced.”
That wasn’t all: “The order at Leeds Crown Court was also erroneously drawn up to suggest the appellant had been convicted of a criminal offence rather than having been committed for contempt of court. Errors like this have serious consequences upon the classification of prisoners, resulting in the deprivation of privileges and release on licence. In this case, it also resulted in the erroneous imposition of a victim surcharge.” The conclusion is blunt: “The finding of contempt in Leeds is quashed. All consequential orders fall away. The court remits the matter of alleged contempt at Leeds Crown Court to be heard again before a different judge.” Bottom line: Robinson was freed on bail pending a new, properly conducted hearing.
“[N]o longer sufficient urgency.” “[A] muddle.” “[N]o clarity.” “[E]rroneously drawn up.” Strong words, reaffirming ancient English principles of justice and fairness. Reassuring words, which make one feel that perhaps sharia hasn’t yet entirely conquered Britain. Humbling words – or so, at least, one can hope – that will lead Farage, Phillips, and others to re-examine their readiness to embrace the Leeds Crown Court’s actions, which the High Court has now rebuked with remarkable bluntness and comprehensiveness. For the time being, at least, Tommy is free, and those of us who have described him, with outrage, as having been railroaded have been thoroughly vindicated.