We should all be in contempt of this court

On 25 May 2018 one of the most extraordinary abuses of judicial authority in recent English law occurred.  Judge Geoffrey Marson QC, having seen the jury in the trial of a child exploitation gang to retire to consider their verdict, became aware of Tommy Robinson on the street outside the court reporting into his phone. A photographer outside the court captured the moment as the judge looked down and spoke to a police officer.

 

 

Moments later that officer conducted a wholly illegal arrest of Tommy. Clearly without any understanding of what offence he had supposedly committed or what power she was meant to be using she fell back on the old police favourite ‘you are being arrested for a breach of the peace’ –even though Tommy was self evidently acting in an entirely orderly and non-violent manner.

Tommy was then taken to a police station, where he called his solicitors, and thence back to court whereupon in two hearings lasting less than five minutes in total, and without his solicitors having had chance to arrive, he was sentenced to ten months in prison and had a three month suspended sentence activated.

But for what offence and using what power? Tommy didn’t know, his solicitors weren’t there to ask, and when the case reached the Court of Appeal two months later Judge Marson couldn’t explain.  The Court of Appeal found that Marson had rushed the hearing, didn’t know what offence he thought Tommy had committed and hadn’t consulted any law book to confirm that he was using a legal power. He certainly didn’t explain to Tommy what he thought Tommy had done wrong and didn’t ask Tommy to admit or deny whatever it was that was so obvious it didn’t need explaining.  Incredibly after allowing judge Marson two months to explain his thinking the Court of Appeal was still unable to sort out what had been in his mind.

Most seriously, Marson had imposed a ‘sentence of imprisonment’ (which he had no power to impose since Tommy had not, on any possible view, been tried for a crime). The consequences of this for Tommy were severe and could have been disastrous. Tommy would spend the next two months in a high security prison wing, in virtually solitary confinement, with severely restricted access to communication with his lawyers and family legitimate fear of poisoning, on an almost starvation diet, when, at the very worst, he should have been treated as an unconvicted prisoner, detained for a civil wrong in a low security, possibly open, prison.

Finally the proceedings moved from Kafkaesque to Orwellian as judge Marson imposed a reporting restriction so that the press were unable to report even the fact of Tommy’s imprisonment to his many followers and critics.

Note the date when, in the country that pioneered the rule of law, a nationally recognised political activist could be plucked off the street and be extra-judicially ‘disappeared’ with no one permitted to say what had become of him.

​So how did this happen? Is Judge Marson QC an ignorant bumbling buffoon? Bumbling and cack-handed on this occasion certainly, but judges know their law and can be precise with their words when they put their mind to it. All the signs are that he could not wait to be the man to pot the “far right hatemonger and Islamophobe” Tommy Robinson, “founder of the racist EDL”, and had been misled by years of press vilification of Tommy into believing that the whatever carelessness he might be guilty of on the way would be looked on indulgently by the establishment.

As we now know he was not so keen to see the child rapists he was dealing with inside prison cells, and as a result of his generous approach to bail one was allowed to escape justice and flee back to Pakistan.

Tomorrow, in the world’s most famous court, the country’s most senior criminal trial judge, Judge Hilliard, will try to do the job properly. He has given himself months to consider the case. No mistakes are likely to occur.  He will be acting as prosecutor as well as judge – a process that makes sense when somebody is disorderly within a courtroom and needs to be dealt with swiftly, but makes much less sense, and looks much less fair, when the case is so difficult the judge was unable to meet his own deadline to serve a summary of the allegation on Tommy’s legal team. We know, for example, that one issue that will arise is whether Tommy breached reporting restrictions on the trial by potentially revealing to the jury that the defendants, five of whom were called Mohammed, were Muslims.

A wise judge would look at such wafer thin arguments, reflect with pained embarrassment on the past legal omnishambles and the illegal sentence already served, and draw a line under the whole sorry episode.

But all the signs are that the judicial kitchen sink is being thrown at the challenge to reconstruct from scratch the case against Tommy. If Tommy is returned to prison we should all hold the court system in contempt.

 

Paul Ellis, Legal Spokesman, For Britain Movement 

 

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