Here’s the background. None of this is even controversial, it’s all covered in official government reports.
In a number of towns around England, organised child prostitution has been happening on a large scale. The gangs organising this have been made up overwhelmingly of British Pakistanis, and the girls abused have been mainly white, mostly from the care system.
Protecting children in the care system is the job of local government, but the local government bodies have been slow to act on the problem. People in those bodies and outside who tried to act were accused of being racist, and publicity relating to the problem was avoided on the grounds that it would encourage extremism in the country.
The Times published a large feature on the situation in 2011. Even then, action was not taken; local government officials in the towns named maintaining that the article was “racist propaganda” from the “Murdoch press”.
Eventually the responsible bodies, including the police, were pushed into action. Over the last few years, a number of child prostitution gangs have been prosecuted around the country, and dozens of men convicted and imprisoned.
One such case finished last week in Leeds. ….
This is the case that resulted in Tommy Robinson’s imprisonment for Contempt of Court. While the case was going on, he livestreamed his opinion on the case on his facebook page, from outside the court. The judge saw his stream and ruled that the content was prejudicial to the case: that if any jurors saw what he had been saying, it would have prejudiced their verdict. Juries are supposed to be given information on the case only within the court, according to the procedural rules of the court. The common-law principle of Sub Judice has for many years restricted what can be published relating to an active legal proceeding, but in Britain it was replaced in 1981 by statute.
These statutory rules are consistently and firmly applied to media organisations. Reporting of a jury trial that is still going on is limited to the bare facts of what has happened in court, without commentary or implication. In practice, the media generally does not publish any report at all on a jury trial until it ends, at which point they can say whatever they like. Though aimed in 1981 at media, the law applies to any publication of information that might reach a juror, including websites and social media.
Tommy Robinson was convicted of Contempt of Court for streaming information about a case in Bath in 2017, and given a suspended sentence. On his second conviction in Leeds in 2018, he was sentenced to 13 months. He is now awaiting a retrial: the original conviction was quashed as being overly hasty.
He claimed in his stream that the case was being covered up, as it was not reported in the media. This is an idiotic claim: trials are not usually reported in the media until they finish, because of the law on prejudicing juries. The other trials of child prostitution gangs had been prominently reported as soon as they finished, just as this one is now. Even the left-leaning media such as the BBC and the Guardian give them heavy coverage, and the more populist media can surely be counted on to do so. Of course, if anyone with a web site or a facebook account feels that detail or emphasis is missing in the media reports, they are totally free, now the case is over, to add to it.
That would be a good thing to do. While the trials themselves are heavily reported, the background and context of the events is still seriously underreported. In a piece that repeated a lot of the errors that were going around about Contempt of Court, Mark Steyn made one extremely good argument:
Tracking down the victims of Rotherham required a bit of elementary detective work on my part, but it’s not that difficult. What struck me, as my time in town proceeded, was how few members of the British media had been sufficiently interested to make the effort: The young ladies were unstoppably garrulous in part because, with a few honorable exceptions, so few of their countrymen have ever sought them out to hear their stories.
It is not hard to guess why this is: reporting a court case is clearly something the media is expected to do, but going out and finding stories that, once again, will get you accused of being racist for writing, probably isn’t worth the effort. This in-depth reporting of the issue is missing, and needs to happen.
But that is not what Robinson was doing. He was standing outside the court whose verdict is now front-page news, and falsely claiming it was being covered up. Nobody who understands the court process in Britain would take such a claim seriously, and those who he deceived will look less credible in future. It was for that reason that I tried to push back at the time on people who were repeating the false claims.
Aside from this specifc incident, it’s not unreasonable to say that Robinson is unduly harassed by the authorities. This is partly because they object to his politics, and partly because it’s just easier to get him out of the way to calm down the situation than to face the other side. It is standard police tactics in the case of a disturbance to arrest the weaker party for breach of the peace, and then let them go once things have calmed down.
On the other hand, he does tend to make it easy for them. His style is still that of the football hooligan looking for a punch-up. I’m not sure exactly what would have happened if he had streamed his comments on the Leeds case from his house, instead of going to the court and parading outside it. Legally, his offence would have been exactly the same, but at any rate someone would have to have seen his broadcast, identified it as prejudicial, obtained a warrant for his arrest for contempt of court, and then gone and arrested him. That probably would have all happened, but it would have taken a while. By seeking out confrontation, he made it as easy as grabbing him off the street and convicting him straight away, which is the question on which his conviction was quashed (there are strong echoes of this case: the authorities needing to play a bit loose with the rules to keep the peace. That said, I will be a bit surprised if he isn’t found guilty — the unusual rapidity of his conviction was, I assume, driven by the need to protect the ongoing case, but given the outcry the high court presumably felt a more careful proceeding was needed. Note, by the way, that my speculations here are not contempt because the Robinson case does not involve a jury — otherwise I would still be keeping my views to myself a bit longer. Note I wrote most of the rest of this post months ago, with the intention of publishing after the Huddersfield case).
@Outsideness, when I pointed out that the cases weren’t being covered up and that he was repeating blatantly false claims, took refuge in the opinion that protecting juries from prejudicial information, and for that matter the concept of jury trials themselves, are probably doomed. In the long run, I agree. Information wants to be free, and all that. If someone wants to broadcast information about a trial anonymously or from overseas, there’s not much the court can do about it. Further, the concept of the jury is that there’s such a thing as a “typical citizen” who can be represented by a juror, which is less and less true. But I’d say the current system has a good few years left yet. One of the reasons many people were so confused by what happened is that the question of discussing an ongoing trial generally doesn’t come up. Because the media saves its reporting for the end of the trial where they can report freely, as a rule when a trial is happening nobody who isn’t involved even knows that it’s going on. Anyone who wants to can turn up at the court and view the lists and sit in the gallery, but that’s work. So the vast new amateur publishing ecosystem doesn’t comment on trials because they are still reliant on mainstream media to find out that they’re happening. And, ultimately, there’s nothing to gain by breaking the Contempt of Court law. If you want to have your say in a public debate, it’s better to have it when the debate is actually happening, which is when it’s legal. It’s so rare for someone to be done for prejudicing a jury that a lot of people didn’t understand it — and it’s rare not because the law isn’t enforced, but because it’s almost never broken.
The actual drawbacks of the restricted reporting came up shortly afterwards. I saw in my twitter feed a photo of a demonstration from a few years back: muslim protestors with signs like “As muslims we unite & we are prepared to fight”, “behead those who insult Islam” and “massacre those who insult Islam”. The twitter caption was “Thinking of Tommy Robinson being jailed for standing in the street talking into a microphone, how many of these fine upstanding citizens were arrested?”
OK, Robinson was bound to get jailed, but aside from that, this is just the thing I was complaining about before: by tolerating this sort of thing, our society is effectively pushing Islam to become more radical, more detached from the society it’s located in.
But hang on, that tweet was quote-tweeted. What was the comment?
“At least 5 immediately and several more later. I then charged the most serious offenders with Soliciting Murder rather than just Public Order offences. They went to prison for between 4 and 6 years. You don’t see those placards anymore on UK streets. Next?”
Well, that changes the story a bit. Who is this guy who claimed to have personally rid Britain of open calls for Muslim terrorist violence?
That would be @nazir_afzal. Former chief public prosecutor for North-West England.
Back to him in a moment. First the protesters. This is where the problems caused by reporting restrictions on trials really kick in. I saw reports of that demonstration and those signs. A bunch of the protesters were arrested, and some of them charged with serious crimes, but I didn’t know that. If the media reported it at all, it would quite likely be in such vague terms that I wouldn’t know whether those arrested were the Muslims with the signs or other people getting into fights with them. When they were convicted, that would, I’m sure, have been reported, but that would have been months later, and I might easily have missed it. Because there was no contemporaneous reporting of their trial, there would have just been that gap, destroying a continuity of context that might possibly (and to be fair, it is a stretch) have caused me to remember the original demo as something that people got imprisoned for. So that’s a motive for finding some other way of ensuring jury independence. (I’m not going to get into possibilities, that would require a lot more expertise and interest).
So, Nazir Afzal. I’m a bit embarrassed I hadn’t heard of him. For one thing, our knowledge of the background that this posts opens with is partly down to him: he made the decision to prosecute the Rochdale child prostitution gang after a previous decision elsewhere not to.
It kind of jumps to one’s attention that Afzal is a Muslim of Pakistani ancestry himself. I wouldn’t want to belittle his personal achievement in doing the good things mentioned here, but where his colleagues would have been intimidated by the threat of being labelled as racist from taking the necessary firm line against criminality by British Muslims, he had a freer hand to act.
The liberal line at this point would surely be that our problem is that we don’t have enough Muslim senior lawyers like Afzal. Promote more brown people, and everything will be fine. That is wrong, because what is significant about Afzal (again, aside from his individual personal qualities which I don’t want to play down) is that his background is different from that of the Pakistani Muslims that are involved in the problem. The subcontinent is big and complicated. The large Pakistani communities in Britain are overwhelmingly those who were resettled from Azad Kashmir when the region was flooded, their families who have come later, and their children born here. Afzal is something else: “his father’s family worked for generations in catering for the British Army”. So while the “normal” British Pakistanis are resettled intact clans, and he is basically on his own and consequently, though he retains his religion, much more assimilated to British society. Numbers matter. The child prostitution problem is basically an organised crime problem, and organised crime works better for an ethnic group with links that are strong and opaque to outsiders. The teachings of Islam maybe have a part to play, but the American Mafia were Catholics, and they still ran whores. (The fact that the leader of the Huddersfield gang appears to be a Sikh is rather odd, but, I suppose, consistent with the theory that what matters is that the ethnic gang produces a cohesive group, that trusted outsiders can be brought into if they have something to contribute. Again, this isn’t fundamentally about religion or culture; it’s fundamentally about organised crime).
The thing that we can conclude from Afzal’s efforts is that the system works better when people in authority aren’t terrified of being called racist.
If we could fix that one thing — well, the large resettled clans are never going to be easy given the numbers, but we would be in with a chance.
But we can’t fix that. Anti-racism is the religion, and we can no more wipe it out than we could convert the Pakistanis to Mormonism. So this is all a bit academic.
An interesting view of our decline.