On Thursday 22 July 2021, Mr Justice Nicklin (Head of the Media & Communications List of the Queen’s Bench Division) handed down his eagerly awaited Judgment in the Libel Proceedings QB-2019-001740 between Jamal Hijazi and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson).
Burlingtons Legal LLP represented the Claimant, Mr Jamal Hijazi, and instructed Ms Catrin Evans QC and Mr Ian Helme, both of Matrix Chambers. The Defendant, Mr Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was originally represented by solicitors and lead counsel but appeared in person at the trial.
Prior to coming to the UK, the Hijazi family were living in a camp in Lebanon for three years where Jamal was enrolled at a French school. Jamal came to the UK at 13 years old in October 2016 under the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme under which his family had been granted asylum status. Jamal was placed at a school in Huddersfield and was subjected to bullying, often of a racial nature, from the outset.
During October 2018, Jamal was attacked in the playground by an older pupil which was filmed by another pupil. The video shows the pupil grabbing Jamal by the throat, throwing him to the floor, squirting water on his face and, amongst a litany of expletives, says “I’ll drown you”. In that very same video Jamal’s arm was in a cast due to a separate incident of targeted bullying just weeks previously.
Owing to its deplorable nature, this video went ‘viral’ around the world; the vast majority of reactions in support of Jamal for the blatant injustice he had suffered. The overwhelming support, however, was sadly tainted by the contributions of Tommy Robinson.
Prior to being banned from all major social media platforms, Tommy Robinson broadcast two videos to his numerous followers, the first of which received approximately one million views. In those videos, Tommy Robinson claimed that Jamal wasn’t actually a victim but, rather, the bully himself. The imputations contained in these videos are those to which our client’s libel claim related. Proceedings were commenced in May 2019.
Mr Justice Nicklin determined the meaning of the imputations contained in the aforementioned videos as follows:
“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.”
“The Claimant had, as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her serious injuries.”
Following various interim applications and hearings, the trial finally took place in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during April 2021.
The Defendant ran a ‘propensity’ Defence. He believed that by demonstrating the Claimant’s alleged ‘bad character’ in separate allegations that he would be able to evidentially prove the allegations contained in the two Facebook videos. Even if the Defendant was able to prove these additional allegations, the specific imputations on which the libel was based could not have been consequently proven. At trial, there were a number of young witnesses casting a variety of damaging aspersions on Jamal in support of Tommy Robinson’s truth Defence.
The Defendant also sought to rely on undercover recordings to which the participants had not consented. Mr Yaxley-Lennon submitted that the fact that they did not know they were being recorded presented the uncensored truth, to which Nicklin J contested that the participants might have sought to embellish their version of events in order to impress the Defendant on the basis that they believed the conversation to be private and, thus, without any ramifications. Either way, Nicklin J applied little, if any, weight to this evidence.
None of the Defendants’ witnesses’ evidence was found to be reliable by Nicklin J and several of his witnesses were found to be explicitly lying to the Court as supported by contemporaneous documentary evidence. Perhaps ironically, one of the Defendant’s lead witnesses, a young law student, was found to have perjured herself with regard to her allegations that Jamal had attacked her with a hockey stick. Nicklin J was especially incensed that someone in a position as hers would risk so much for no obvious or, at the very least, questionable gain.
In the closing paragraph of his Judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin recognised that the perpetrator in the Viral Video, having spent a period of time as public enemy number one, possibly “regarded the Defendant as something of a saviour” but contemplated that “with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, [he] may yet come to reflect on whether he has actually been helped by the Defendant.”
The High Court awarded Jamal £100,000 in pecuniary damages and the Defendant is subject to an injunction prohibiting him from repeating or reasserting the allegations held to be untrue in Mr Justice Nicklin’s Judgment dated 22 July 2021. Nicklin J had initially been hesitant to impose an injunction but, merely days prior to Judgment being handed down, the Defendant stated that he would be publishing the “total evidence and proof” of what Jamal was like which tipped the balance in favour of the imposition of an injunction. A copy of that judgment is available here.
This achievement has not gone unrecognised and this firm’s Francesca Flood, the partner with conduct of the matter, has been selected as The Times Lawyer of the Week. A copy of that article is available here.
If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact Dominic Holden or write to us using the contact form below.