Katie Hopkins is never far from the headlines. But this time it’s because she may have broken the law for sharing footage of Tommy Robinson taken inside a court building. The actions of the former Apprentice candidate and friend of the right-wing, who is close to bankruptcy following an expensive libel case involving Jack Monroe, could be in contempt of court. Once again, her carefree use of Twitter might have landed her in hot water. How did this start? It begins with Robinson, who has been accused of contempt of court for allegedly filming people involved in a criminal trial. He shared the footage on social media. On Thursday, the right-wing activist and co-founder of the English Defence League, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, appeared at London’s Old Bailey for a fresh hearing into the accusation. However it was adjourned. Later Ezra Levant, of TheRebel.media website, shot footage of Robinson inside the Old Bailey – in the second floor canteen – looking out the window at protesters and thanking them for their support.
What happened with the footage?
Mr Levant posted the footage to his Twitter account. Hopkins did too, and wrote: “Hugest hugs to all the proud patriots turning out to protest Establishment over-reach & hounding of [Tommy Robinson] – good work capturing a brilliantly British moment [Ezra Levant].”
She then reposted the footage, saying: “Threatened with contempt of court for posting this, my loyalty remains with the supporters who took time, effort & money to be outside the Old Bailey. Sure, you can lock ME up. But we will not be silenced.”
The City of London Police said it was investigating the footage “which appears to show filming taking place inside the Central Criminal Court and has been shared online”.
“We will be looking into whether any offences have been committed,” the force added.
Can Hopkins go to jail for this?
If proceedings are brought against Hopkins jail is a possibility, according to lawyers.
“The Contempt Of Court Act 1981 imposes strict penalties for any sharing of content which may potentially pose a risk to the administration of justice in ongoing proceedings,” says Steve Kuncewicz, a partner at BLM law firm.
It generally warns against filming in the precincts of a Court Room or Court Building. “Broadcasting [or sharing] this footage whilst proceedings are ongoing is potentially a contempt issue,” he adds.
But the risk of jail is low.
John Spyrou, director at Pinder Reaux Solicitors, says “technically” Hopkins could go to jail but “realistically” she will not.
The alleged contempt would be diluted, he says, because Hopkins “would in essence be republishing the contempt of somebody else”.
He also points out: “It does not appear that her video has interfered with the administration of justice, which is a principle consideration of contempt matters and so may not be considered serious enough to warrant contempt proceedings.
“But the counter balance is that her social media comments appear to show a blasé attitude to this, which may be considered an aggravating factor,” he adds.
What other facts are at play?
Ms Hopkins’ actions should be taken in the context of Robinson’s case.
The EDL co-founder was released from prison on bail last month after three judges quashed findings made at Leeds Crown Court and ordered fresh proceedings, which means Robinson could still be sent to jail if he is found in contempt of court, with a maximum sentence of two years.
Spyrou says: “The quashing of his conviction was based on the fact that the [initial] judge committing him for contempt had acted too hastily and that the conduct he was convicted of, on the basis of being a contempt, was not clarified.
“Globally, a judge would be reluctant to commit someone for the technical offence of video recording [or sharing it], bearing in mind the appeal judges in the Tommy Robinson case.”
What can be learned from this?
The sharing of footage emphasises the dangers of citizen journalism.
“The press are well aware of the operation of media law and contempt in particular, but the public less so,” says Mr Kuncewicz. “Any content which may affect the course of justice in ongoing legal proceedings, in whatever form, creates a contempt risk, and potentially even more so if it’s shared to a large following on social media.”