Whatever you might think of former English Defense League leader Tommy Robinson, his recent arrest for filming outside a courthouse, subsequent trial without his choice of legal representation, and summary sentencing should stir outrage. Britain was the progenitor of the rule of law throughout much of the Western world. But that Britain seems to have been subsumed by a new, authoritarian Britain more concerned about protecting child rapists and grooming (sexual enslavement) gangs than preserving its own institutions or protecting innocent children.
Described by some as a patriot, others as a right-wing anti-Muslim, Robinson is no stranger to controversy. As co-founder of the English Defense League, he campaigns against Muslim immigration and what he sees as the Muslim takeover of British society.
Britain has been shaken by grooming-gang scandals that have resulted in the rape and sexual exploitation of girls as young as eleven. In the vast majority of these cases, the gang members have been Muslims and the victims non-Muslims.
The grooming-gang scandals have exposed a breakdown in the British social and legal systems. The victims’ complaints against the gang members were dismissed by social workers, teachers and the police, leaving the girls vulnerable to their predators and feeling worthless. Not only were the victims not believed, but in some cases they were also laughed at.
The allegations against the grooming gangs have persisted for decades without so much as a response from adults in positions of authority to help the exploited girls.
The gangs are finally being brought to trial. Amid one such trial in the Leeds Crown Court, Tommy Robinson was doing what anyone in a free society should be able to do. He took pictures of the defendants going into the court.
For this, he was surrounded by police, arrested, hauled before a judge, denied his own counsel, and summarily sentenced to 13 months in jail. All of this took place in a matter of a day. The swiftness of the police response to Robinson’s filming contrasted painfully with the languorous response of the authorities to the victims’ cries over years for help and sympathy.
When a grooming trial is held, the extended family members of the defendants harass and threaten the victims and their families. At trial, victims and their family members need a security escort to go to the restrooms in order to be protected from harassment. Children as young as five are mobilized to throw stones at the victims and their families as they go to and from the court. Judges have dismissed the public from these trials at the request of the defendants.
News of Robinson’s arrest sparked thousands of demonstrators to rally outside the prime minister’s residence, demanding Robinson’s release. Concerns have been raised that Robinson will be put in the general prison population with violent Muslims who will kill him.
The Crown’s handling of Robinson in the wake of its inaction in dealing with the accusations about the grooming gangs has become a public relations nightmare for the government. One need not agree with Tommy Robinson’s political views to defend his right to a fair and impartial trial, which includes his right to the counsel of his choice. Exacerbating this miscarriage of justice, the sentencing judge issued a gag order against the media divulging anything about Robinson’s trial and subsequent sentencing.
The gag order has infuriated those committed to a free and open press. As a consequence, the international media has stepped into the breach. Tommy Robinson is getting more publicity than if the gag order had not been issued. In addition, he is raising money on a web page that undoubtedly is drawing more hits than otherwise.
In its handling of Tommy Robinson, Britain is making the same mistake it made decades ago in censoring the Irish Republican Army. In the modern world, such censorship is not only impossible, it also evokes the time-worn suggestion that the truth is what you are not being told.
Tommy Robinson now appears to have been attempting to tell that truth. Credibility is his gain and the government’s loss.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @salomoncenter