I’ve been waiting for this on tenterhooks.
I set out below the decision of District Judge Jonathan Bennett that Paul Chambers was guilty of the offence of sending a menacing message via a public telecommunications network, contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
Regular readers of this blog will know I rarely criticse judges. In two years following the Simon Singh libel case, for example, I never once directly criticised Mr Justice Eady.
However, I believe the judgment below is not only illiberal and incorrect.
I believe it is a disgrace.
But even more worrying is the revelation that the Crown Prosecution Service submitted that the offence needed no intention at all.
Now some important extracts from the judgement:
I have to consider the final part of the “tweet” – “otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high”. The context is we live in a society where there are huge security concerns particularly in relation to airports and air travel. I do not need to repeat the very real incidents there have been in the UK in recent years let alone worldwide. With that background I can have no doubt that the remark posted by the defendant is menacing.
Errr… O. Kay.
His intention is of course different matter to which I now turn.
Do go on.
I now have to consider whether the prosecution have to demonstrate a particular state of mind to satisfy me the offence is made out. It is more than just an intention to send a message to another. [The prosecutor] in his skeleton argument seeks to persuade me that mens rea is not required for the offence beyond a simple intention to send the message (see paragraph 7 of the prosecution skeleton argument.
So… wait? What?
It is not sufficient for the prosecution to say this case is obiter dicta because the ratio of the case concerned the definition of “grossly offensive”. It is dealing with the very same sub-section. I find the case binding upon me. I therefore conclude that the prosecution must show some mens rea to satisfy me, to the requisite standard of proof, for me to find this case is proved.
So mens rea must be shown by the prosecution? Well we’re home & dry then, right? Oh….
I do not have to accept what the defendant tells me about his state of mind at face value. I also note the defendant is an experienced, and clearly very heavy user, of “Twitter”. Furthermore he has travelled by air, although he had not used Robin Hood airport previously.
So Chambers had all the information and experience necessary to know what he was posting was likely to have the consequences it has had? The airport’s security dismissed his tweet as a non-viable threat.
I found strange his evidence in relation to airport threats not seeming to relate to him and appearing to be in another world.
He DIDN’T MAKE AN AIRPORT THREAT for crying out loud. He made a stupid hyperbolic comment.
Of particular significance is the fact that this “tweet” was posted to the public timeline, unlike most of his “tweets” in the time frame around this particular posting. This message would have been of particular significance to the lady known as “crazy colours” in Northern Ireland to whom the defendant was going to see on his air journey. He chose to post it in the public domain where in theory it was open for anyone to see, as indeed did Mr Duffield.
Oh you’re an expert at this now, are you? Do you UNDERSTAND how slim the difference is on Twitter between a post in the public timeline and one directed at a specific twitterist?
As for Mr Duffield. Well, what an unmitigated Berkeley Hunt.
Carry on up the Khyber:
I am therefore satisfied, so that I am sure, that the defendant sent the message via “Twitter” and it was of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live. Furthermore I am satisfied the defendant was, at the very least, aware that this was of a menacing nature and I find him guilty of the offence.
Gordon Brown, you and your cronies did this to my country, you utter disgrace.
Read on for the full judgement and treatment…
Also tomorrow, prolifically podcasting blawgist Charon QC is recording a podcast with Jack of Kent on this very dire matter.