April 23 2020

Judgment: The meaning of Tommy Robinson’s remarks on Facebook

Thomson Heath Jenkins & Associates
Thomson Heath Jenkins & Associates

On 21 April 2020, Mr Justice Nicklin handed down judgment in relation to meaning in the libel proceedings against Tommy Robinson, over remarks he made about Jamal Hijazi. The official judgment is available here.

Mr Hijazi was filmed being attacked in a school playground last year and the video was shared widely online. Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, then made remarks responding to that video in two self-recorded videos posted on Facebook (they were viewed respectively over 850,000 and 100,000 times).

At a preliminary hearing in March, Nicklin J was asked to determine the “natural and ordinary” meaning of Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s remarks in these videos. The Claimant argued that someone watching Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s videos would have understood them to mean that Mr Hijazi was “(1) a violent individual who was part of a gang that committed numerous act of violence against schoolgirls (2) had himself committed very serious violence against at least one girl; and (3) had threatened to stab an individual at school.”

While Mr Yaxley-Lennon contended that the first video related to one specific incidence of violence against a schoolgirl and did not suggest any further acts of gang violence. In relation to the second video, he suggested that contrary to the Claimant’s suggestion, there was no reference to the threat of stabbing another child and that the Claimant’s meaning was therefore ‘untenable’.

Delivering his ruling remotely, Nicklin J rejected both Mr Hijzai and Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s approaches. Instead, he determined that the natural and ordinary meaning of the first video was that the Claimant had “(1) as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries; and (2) threatened to stab another child.” Contrary to both parties positions, he ruled that the second video’s meaning was the same as only the first limb of the first video, namely that the Claimant “as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries”.

The Judge also found that Claimant’s approach went beyond that of the ordinary and reasonable viewer, who “would recognise that the defendant was making a specific allegation of violent conduct against the claimant” and that they would understand that Mr Yaxley-Lennon had been speaking “figuratively” when he said Mr Hijazi was “not innocent, he attacks young girls”. At the same time, Nicklin J also stated that the Defendant’s proposed meaning had failed “to capture the gravity of the allegation being made against the claimant”.

The six day trial of this claim is due to be heard later this year.

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