Our British correspondent Alan Smith sends the following account of last Wednesday’s court appeal by the legal team for Tommy Robinson of his thirteen-month prison sentence. Mr. Smith was present that day in the public gallery of the courtroom.
Appeal of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) against convictions and sentences at Canterbury and Leeds
by Alan Smith
Court 4, Royal Courts of Justice
10.30am, Wednesday 18 July 2018
||Lord Burnett of Maldon, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
||Mr Justice Turner
||Mrs Justice McGowan DBE
This account of the Appeal hearing is based on notes written long-hand in Court. It offers a detailed description of the proceedings rather than a continuous transcript. The words recorded are based on those used, and certain phrases are in quote marks to indicate particular accuracy. Notes and clarifications are in square brackets.
At various points, the proceedings made reference to legal authorities, particularly the cases of West, and Nicholls vs Nicholls. The writer is unfamiliar with these, so details recorded here are incomplete. As the writer had to listen and write at the same time, there are likely to be other omissions.
A brief background: On 8 May 2017, Tommy Robinson had been given a three month suspended sentence for contempt of court after trying to film four Muslim men on trial at Canterbury Crown Court for raping a teenager. On 25 May 2018, Tommy Robinson was detained outside Leeds Crown Court for using social media to broadcast details of a trial which was subject to blanket reporting restrictions. He was gaoled the same day for 13 months for contempt of court by Judge Geoffrey Marson QC.
Court 4 was wood panelled with rows of bound law books on all sides. The room was high, the equivalent of several storeys, with windows at the very top. Microphones hung down on wires from various points. There were three four-foot TV screens: on the left and right walls, and the wall opposite the judges’ bench (behind the public gallery). In the front right corner (from the public’s perspective) was the dock with heavy black bars, and to the front left the press gallery. There was a large clock on the right-hand wall.
At 9.55am, Louis Mably QC, wearing wig and gown, entered and took a position on the right, as viewed from the public gallery. It was assumed by the writer that Mr Mably was the prosecutor, but it transpired that he was an independent barrister appointed by the Attorney General as a “friend of the court”, meaning he was there to offer advice and comment critically on Tommy Robinson’s appeal, rather than oppose it per se.
At 10am, Tommy’s legal team entered: Jeremy Dein QC and a female junior, both wearing wigs and gowns, and two other legal members, wearing suits. They sat to the left.
At 10.15am the three video screens came on, revealing Tommy Robinson. He looked well, slimmer, and his hair was thicker. He was wearing a long sleeved black shirt and jeans, and a belt with a decorative buckle. He was sitting at a table with an empty chair beside him and a black curtain behind. Occasionally Tommy drank from a white mug, and talked to someone off camera.
A male court official, with a foreign accent, asked Tommy, “Can you hear me?” Tommy said “Yes.” The official asked, “Can you confirm that your name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon?” “Yes.” “Can you see your barrister”? “Yeah.” The official said he would ask Tommy to identify himself again, at the beginning of the proceedings.
Peering into his monitor, Tommy asked, “Is it meant to be so small? Can you make the pictures bigger?” Tommy held his hands about six inches apart, to indicate the screen size. The official said he could not change the screen size, and asked whether Tommy could adjust it at his end. Tommy said he had a “big massive TV but three very small pictures”. The official said, “We cannot change that,” and Tommy replied, “Doesn’t matter, I can hear.”
From 10.23am for about a quarter of an hour there was waiting and silence. There were three court officials to the front; the four members of Tommy’s legal team; Louis Mably QC; six members of the press; and, in the public gallery, to the back of the court room, fifty people, both men and women, of various ages. There was a black security guard to the front right of the court room, sitting in a comfy red swivel chair; it was the same type of chair as those waiting for the judges.
At various points while waiting, Tommy hunched over his table with folded arms, or leant back in the chair. At one point he took to picking fluff off his shirt sleeve. At 10.31am, perhaps prompted by someone he could make out in the court room, he grinned and gave two thumbs up.
At 10.37am three clerks entered from doors behind the judges’ bench and laid out folders for the judges. At 10.39am a fair-haired female clerk said, “All rise,” and the three judges entered. Sir Ian Burnett of Maldon sat in the centre, Mr Justice Turner to the left, and Mrs Justice McGowan to the right (as viewed from the public gallery).
The court official asked Tommy, again, “Can you confirm that your name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon?” “Yes, I am.”
Lord Burnett said: “I’d like to say two things. There is a certain amount of interest in the case, and it is heartening to see so many people in court. However, there is likely to be technical argument, so members of the public coming and going [from the court] should do so in such a manner as to not disrupt the flow of the court”.
Lord Burnett said that there had been prior discussion as to whether there should be a reporting restriction order, and whether notes could be taken in court. He said that there was no order that these proceedings be subject to a reporting restriction, and that the general rule was that notes could be taken. He said that members of the press could tweet, and that they were aware of the limits.
Lord Burnett reminded the court that there remained in place an order in the Leeds Crown Court prohibiting reporting of what occurred at two trials.
Jeremy Dein QC said he was “extremely mindful” that arguments had been set out in writing, and he would welcome being informed if he dwelt on things of which the court was aware. He would not go into the facts of the case, as the court was aware of these.
Mr Dein said the appeals were “out of time.” Lord Burnett said Leeds was a little out of time, and Canterbury was a long way out of time: “Develop your submissions as to why the appeal should be heard.”