The Joke Trial #Twitterjoketrial

No, not mock trial. Not even a trial where Rolf Harris sings “Tie me kangaroo court down”

This is a joke trial. Of the kind that makes a mockery of justice.

I speak, of course, about the Paul Chambers case, about which I and others have written extensively.

Yesterday, Paul’s appeal against his conviction under section 127.1(a) of the Communications Act 2003 was denied on all counts.

I am utterly aghast. Paul, and his nearest and dearest, must be utterly devastated.

Commentary on Twitter has been almost universally of the view that Paul’s treatment, at the hands of the CPS and the courts, is simply disgraceful and utterly baffling.

Take this post from CharonQC, for example. It refers to some of his tweets on the matter:



He makes some useful points, too.


I won’t be arrested for saying this (I  assume.. although nothing is certain, it would seem) …. I won’t be prosecuted for saying this (ditto) …. I do not practice… so I can’t even be censured… (pretty sure on that one).   We really do need to sort our legal system out if it can bring about such an absurd and unjust result….. even if *The Law* justifies the decision of the judge as framed… if that is the case.. we need better laws..and we do deserve them.

And this, it would appear, is the rub.

Stereotypically inscrutable legal tweeter, @Art_Li makes some good points in the comments of Charon’s post.

He suggests both that the judgement is, tacitly or otherwise, a matter of policy….

What I will say is that behind every law and/or prosecution, there is a public policy decision (read motive). The policy decision in this case MAY BE one to discourage “joke” threats, whether on Twitter or elsewhere IN ORDER TO minimise the “leads” the police and security services have to follow up on a daily basis. We know resources there are not unlimited and already they are following up on dozens if not hundreds of leads every day (that is not a fact, just my assumption).

… and that the high court is unlikely to overturn the decision, because it is based on the strict interpretation of a law, as handed down by the House of Lords (now Supreme Court).

  • The following passages from the House of Lords judgment in the case of DPP v Collins (2006) may be of interest. This case was referred to by Mr Chambers’ legal team as well as the Judge in the recent appeal. The case concerned offensive messages but the wording of S.127(1) includes menacing messages too. (Capitalisation below is mine) :-

    “The very act of sending the message over the public communications network … constitutes the offence even if it was being communicated to someone who the sender KNEW WOULD NOT BE IN ANY WAT OFFENDED or distressed by it”.

    Lord Bingham of Cornhill : “it must be proved that the respondent intended his words to be offensive to those to whom they related or BE AWARE THAT THEY MAY BE TAKEN TO BE SO.” … “It can make no difference to criminal liability whether a message is ever actually received or WHETHER THE PERSONS WHO DO RECEIVE IT ARE OFFENDED BY IT.”

    It appears the Judge was therefore applying and following the Collins precedent.


  • I’m not a lawyer, and I can’t claim to understand the precise technical implication of the ruling, but it frustrates me greatly that Art thinks this is so fundamentally important. As if the law is an end in itself, before which all must bow down, however absurd it may be.

    Charon does, on the other hand, know a bit about the law…

    If this is taken to extremes – then many disagreeable statements are capable of coming within this definition and then we are truly doomed…..

    There is a place for a common sense approach to be taken into the application of our laws….. and if that can’t be done by the judiciary, then we simply have to get the law changed so that we don’t have these manifestly absurd cases.

    Art’s point seems to be this: The ruling of the Lords is the ruling of the Lords, and that’s that. That there is no latitude for a judge in any lower court to make any different or differentiated ruling.

    Regarding the chances of success in the High Court, Art is, therefore, not optimistic.

    The implication is this: there are only two realistic ways of fixing the situation.

    One is to take the case to the Supreme Court in order that they may over-rule, clarify or supersede, the DPP vs Collins ruling – for only they can do so. A defeat in the High Court looks like an expensive and risky step that will have to be taken in order to undertake the even more expensive, and even more risky journey to the highest court in the land.

    Having come this far, and Paul Chambers might not thank me for saying this, it would be pointless if he now won in the high court, leaving the next hapless twitterer to role the dice time after time in the same way he has had to, in the face of judge after judge who takes an inflexible reading of DPP vs Collins.

    Far better, it seems, would be for the case to end up before the Supreme Court, where the issue of DPP vs Collins could be put to bed.

    The other thread to be taken up is for the statute under which Chambers was prosecuted to be changed, amended, repealed, dumped in the great legal shredder.

    With the farce that is the Government’s so called ‘Your Freedom’ consultation around a grand repeal of so-called bad or illiberal laws, I don’t believe we can in anyway count on this important matter being addressed.

    Which leaves the option of lobbying, campaigning and insisting that this ludicrously framed law is fixed. Making representations to your MP, to the Minister of Justice, to the Prime Minister. To the newspapers, on the internet, on placards and through loudhailers.

    This is evidently the view of @John_Demetriou. Art Li clearly leans towards the view that getting the law changed is the only way forward.

    And yet, that won’t clear Paul Chambers’ name, or give him his life and career back.

    I wish Paul well and hope that this all, in the end, works out for him. It’s been a shit year for him. The state has made him their plaything, and the state doesn’t play nice.


    Nor will any change in the law come in time to help the Conservative councillor chappie who was arrested yesterday and bailed, accused of the same offence as Chambers, for tweeting that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be stoned to death, in response to her on-air assertion that the west has no right to cast moral judgement against the practices of some Islamic countries.

    Delicate, vulnerable Yasmin called the police. She said:

    Alibhai-Brown, who writes columns for the Independent and the London Evening Standard, said last night she regarded his comments as incitement to murder. She told the Guardian: "It’s really upsetting. My teenage daughter is really upset too. It’s really scared us.

    "You just don’t do this. I have a lot of threats on my life. It’s incitement. I’m going to the police – I want them to know that a law’s been broken."

    She added that she regarded Compton’s remarks as racially motivated because he mentioned stoning.

    So, rolled into one, from Yasmin, we have a ludicrous playing of the race card, a bit of ‘nasty Tories’ political point-scoring and great fear, offence and upset – all from some daft tweet, the likes of which must occur en masse on forums, twitter and blogs, in response to inflammatory comments from this controversial talking head.

    Do Mel Phillips, Rod Liddge, Simon Heffer, Peter Hitchens  or even Jeremy Clarkson not attract vituperative and unpleasant critics? Judge Jacqueline Davies, who presided over Paul Chambers’ defeat yesterday has certainly been in receipt of twitter ordure in the last 24 hours.

    And, apparently, like a good little socialist, Yasmin’s first and last response is to run crying to nanny.

    Compton’s arrest may well be the first indication that the Chambers conviction has opened up the floodgates for to police arrest any one for any contentious, angry or humourous tweet at any time, “even if it was being communicated to someone who the sender KNEW WOULD NOT BE IN ANY WAY OFFENDED or distressed by it”"

    Think about it? Get in a political argument on Twitter, and next thing, some offence-seeking lefty will decide that it’s best to rebut your argument by calling the police and accusing you of being a racist/homophobic/offensive menace, even if you are a threat to nothing more than the merit of their argument.

    A free for all and a legal feeding-frenzy could ensue, which would seal the deal on our lack of freedom of expression in the UK.

    Might as well delete all your tweets now, folks. We are truly and genuinely screwed.



    Paul Chambers Appeal Announced

    Further to previous posts, Jack of Kent has just posted the news:


    And there’s plenty of reason for us to continue to support the fund raising effort that is being undertaken to support this appeal.

    The appeal will now be primarily undertaken by the awesomely formidable Stephen Ferguson, one of the United Kingdom’s best and most sought-after defence and appellate barristers.

    However, in Jack of Kent’s will also continue to provide pro bono legal support to Paul, as will a similarly esteemed media lawyer. This continues to imbue a certain cognitive dissonance in me, but it’s all good.

    Paul and his legal team will also have support pro bono from myself and Andrew Sharpe (who tweets as @TMT_lawyer).

    This is all good news, and I can only wish all involved in this effort the best of luck.

    Oh, wait. No, I can also give some more cash to the fund.



    Donate to Paul Chambers Legal Appeal Fund #section127 #twitterjoketrial

    Do it now…

    Click HERE to go to the fundraising page and click DONATE

    Further to this, Paul Chambers has decided that he is going to appeal his conviction under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending an "indecent, obscene or menacing" message for Tweeting the following throw-away hyperbole:

    "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!"

    It’s a case that has alarming implications for anyone who has ever sent an email, text, tweet, photo or blog comment that may be construed, by anyone, who may happen upon it at an indeterminate later time, to be “of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

    Hear top legal opinion on the matter podcasted here:


    Paul now has a £1,000 fine and a criminal record. Needless to say, that pays no heed to the fear, pain and stress he and his family have endured over the last 3 months. Nor to the various other ways in which he is now out of pocket (and a job) on account of this travesty of justice.



    Jack of Kent on the Paul Chambers verdict

    I’ve been waiting for this on tenterhooks.

    Paul Chambers: a Disgraceful and Illiberal Judgment

    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.

    Jesus wept.

    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.


    In his own words

    Paul Chambers writes…


    For one joke on Twitter I’ve had my civil liberties trampled on, and have now got a criminal record

    The vast majority of us like to consider ourselves decent people. We pay our taxes, hold doors open for others, stay out of trouble, that kind of thing. I certainly thought of myself this way, a 26-year-old man trying to forge a career and get on with life. So when I was arrested on 13 January at work by four police officers, it came as a bit of a shock.

    The reason for the arrest was a tweet I had posted on the social network Twitter, which was deemed to constitute a bomb threat against Robin Hood airport in Doncaster: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!" You may say, and I certainly realise now, it was ill-advised. But it was clearly frustration, caused by heavy snowfall grounding flights and potentially scuppering my own flight a week later. Like having a bad day at work and stating that you could murder your boss, I didn’t even think about whether it would be taken seriously.

    Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.

    I never expected to be charged, but a month later I was: not under the offence of making a bomb threat, for which I was originally arrested, but under the communications act for the offence of sending a menacing message. This first appeared to be an absolute offence, much the same as speeding: conviction does not depend on mens rea. For a stupid mistake, I was faced with the prospect of a career-ruining criminal conviction. After fresh legal advice it turned out I could argue I had no intention and awareness to commit the crime, and I could plead not guilty. Even after all the preceding absurdity and near-breakdown-inducing stress, I was confident common sense would prevail in my day in court.

    Unfortunately,yesterday I was found guilty and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and legal costs, which I have to find along with my own legal costs of another £1,000. I am considering an appeal, though I have no means, having left my job due to the circumstances.

    The bright side has been an outpouring of support on Twitter, unexpected and overwhelming, with many users – including Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross – offering to cover or donate towards my costs via a fund set up by a third party. Writers Sali Hughes, Emma Kennedy and Graham Linehan were among more than a thousand others who sent messages after my verdict was announced. Right now I’m unsure whether to accept their help, but I am truly warmed by the offers.

    Whatever happens now, I remain terrified. Terrified of speaking my mind, terrified that my life has potentially been ruined. Most of the authorities could see it for what it was, and yet I find myself with a conviction because the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was in the public interest to prosecute. It would appear we live in such a hyper-sensitive world that we cannot engage in hyperbole, however misguided, without having civil liberties trampled on by, at best, heavy-handed police.

    I would have fully accepted the police coming to my house to question me; it would have taken all of five minutes to realise what had happened. I would have learned my lesson and no taxpayer money would have been wasted on a frivolous prosecution. I have had some very dark days, and my family has been put through the wringer, because I made one silly joke.


    Donate to the Paul Chambers Twitter Joke Trial Fund

    Note: @stephenfry has very generously offered to pay Paul Chambers’ fine. Nevertheless, this still leaves Paul very much out of pocket, especially if he decides to appeal – he has 21 days to make a decision & no doubt he’ll need to take legal advice in order to come to that decision.

    A facility has now been set up to donate money to assist Paul Chambers with the fallout of the Twitter Joke Trial.

    Donate now via PayPal to

    This chap is responsible for it:


    And good on him, I say.

    He’s set up a Twitter account – @TwJokeTrialFund


    Read more here:


    Paul Chambers Coverage Elsewhere

    Doubtless not a comprehensive list, but:

    This last link contains a lead on finding out more about the judge involved today.

    District Judge Jonathan Bennett (he of Edlington infamy)

    To be updated as and when.


    UPDATE: 11 May 19:00


    As is the way, the brewing twatterstorm is getting round to the grisly business of apportioning blame for the situation Paul Chambers finds himself in. The invisible finger seems to be alighting up on Kier Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, head of the Crown Prosecution service.

    There are so many points at which discretion and common sense could have prevailed. The police. The CPS. The judge.

    It didn’t prevail.

    Clearly, then, the police, the CPS and the judge are all implicated. But if you dig down and ask why they behaved in the way they did, I’m pretty sure you’ll find government targets and directives at the bottom of it all.

    The police, the CPS and the courts were strongly encouraged to pursue this matter, and can only, at the end of the day, be accused of acting in their own understandable self-interest, in applying the law as it is written.

    So we come down to two points:

    • Bad law, drafted and passed into law by the Labour government.
    • Target driven pursuit of prosecutions, under whatever laws may apply, bad or not.

    So, if you support Paul Chambers and share my horror and disgust at his plight, but you voted Labour last week, you really need to stand back and re-evaluate what it was you voted for.


    The unintended consequences of a Twitter Joke.



    Paul reported earlier that we was considering mounting an appeal, but part of him just wants it to be over.

    I can totally understand his sentiment, but if it’s true he now can’t complete his professional qualifications, he HAS to appeal if there’s any possibility at all of overturning this disgusting, moronic, spiteful and shameful verdict.

    A paypal fund is being set up for us all to donate towards Paul’s fine (details to follow).

    If he needs money to fund an appeal, I think we should also contribute to that. There’s a lot of good will towards Paul in the twattersphere, and if we can tap it to such an extent that Paul’s name is cleared, that would be a victory.


    In these troubled times

    … is a catch all excuse for jackbooted authoritarianism. Whether it’s harassing photographers, or criminalising hyperbole.

    The judge who found Paul Chambers guilty today said this:

    A district judge at Doncaster Magistrates Court ruled today the Tweet was "of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live".

    Which basically means that, because of a rag-bag of bearded lunatics, everything we ALL say is subject to strict controls.

    Ergo, this judge (District Judge Bennett apparently) is doing the bidding of Islamic extremists who seek to disrupt our society and our justice system.

    Paul Chambers is a victim of the appallingly misconceived attitude that characterises the UK’s official response to domestic terrorism.

    It’s truly frightening.

    Calling Thomas Jefferson:

    When the government fears the people, there is liberty.  When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.

    I don’t think we can be in any doubt that right now, there is tyranny.


    Paul Chambers GUILTY! WTF!??

    He was prosecuted under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending an “indecent, obscene or menacing” message.

    The more I dwell upon this, the more I feel sick to my stomach. This country is ruined and there truly is tyranny.

    My commiserations to Paul Chambers, and here’s hoping the sentence will be lenient, and not even a sniff of custodial.

    More anon.


    (Background here)

    UPDATE: £1000 fine.


    UPDATE: With pledges of help with Paul’s fine mounting up on Twitter, Old Holborn is on the case of (i) finding out if Paul wants this help and (ii) getting it done.

    #twitterarrest #helppaulchambers Update


    Thursday it is then.

    I guess (iAnal) it can go three ways now.

    1. The judge can reject the motion to change the plea to not-guilty and go on to sentencing.
    2. The judge can accept the motion and declare that there is no case to answer.
    3. The judge can accept the motion and set a trial date in front of twelve men good and true.

    Probably the best result all round is option (2) and I expect that’s what Paul Chambers is hoping for (I would be), but option (3) would (one would hope) make South Yorks Police, the CPS and the government look very stupid indeed. Sadly, it would be unlikely to get underway until after the election.

    So fingers crossed for Mr Chambers and cheers to the above iconised twatterist for keeping us updated.


    Bits & bobs

    Just a few things I’ve happened upon today, that I can’t be bothered to construct full posts about.

    Someone called Matt Flaherty has written a letter to the CPS expressing concern about the Paul Chambers #twitterarrest case. It  very nicely articulates the concerned raised by the choice of path the CPS has taken in this instance. Sadly, since Mr Chambers has already pleaded guilty, it’s too little too late. As an expression of all that’s wrong with this case, though, it’s a fine piece of writing & I commend it to you.

    Many years ago, I used to frequent a web forum, where a chap once boasted how he’d secretly videoed himself shagging various women, by using a hidden camera. A free-for-all ensued and debate was split along the lines of “get in there, good lad – hope you caught the money shots” and “err – that’s certainly immoral and probably illegal – you’re a fucking sleezebag, mate”. This, would have been somewhere between 2002-2004, I guess (I couldn’t find the thread in 2 hours of searching last night), but I was reminded of it when I read this item, about a bloke who has just been jailed, having been rumbled for precisely this activity.

    Mad Mel nails The Tories’ hopey-changey-wishy-washy bullshitfest with aplomb.

    In spite of Tory optimism that their marginal seats strategy is mitigating the nationwide narrowing of the polls, YouGov have a poll of 60 key marginals, showing that the gap in the marginals is 2% too.

    The Jon Venables thing continues to rumble. The beying of the general pubelick continues to grow in pitch and amplitude. #bbcqt last night was awash with it (Will Self here). It is, though, annoying to think that, if the papers are right, Venables has been habitually flouting various of the conditions of his licensed release. Robert Thompson is still at liberty. Do you have a dysfunctional Scouse loner with a sketchy background in your workplace? Renting a flat from you? In your bed? Have you checked under your bed for monsters and trolls? Meanwhile, Venable is getting another new identity after his ID was rumbled at the prison he’s in.

    Bit of a contradiction here:


    Which one is it? I think we all know. I’ve suffered these bi-weekly collections for a couple of years now and they are a fucking joke in half a dozen different ways.

    Incidentally, they’re installing RFID chips in bins again. Look for a circular black plastic thing, recently inserted in the underside of the front lip of your wheelie bin. Remove. Microwave for 2 minutes. Reinsert.

    Brown’s in front of the Chilcot inquiry today. Outcome likely to be, “meh – he got away with it again.”

    I’ve added the Big Brother Watch site to my blogroll, because, if I’ve nothing to say on any particular day, it’s usually because they’ve already said it with aplomb.

    The Met office are to stop issuing seasonal forecasts, because they’re shit at it. Presumably, this will give them more time to spend cooking their global warming datasets.

    This took a while to float back to the surface.

    [Airline Bomb Plotter] Ali’s wife has also been charged under anti-terror laws for allegedly failing to inform authorities of the plot. However, she strongly asserts her innocence.

    She’s just been cleared after a 3 week trial. Good.

    More crap anon.


    #twitterarrest takes a very nasty turn

    You may remember the case of Paul Chambers, who I wrote about here  in 18th January.


    It was reported at the time that Paul had been bailed until 11th February. When that date came and went, having shit to do, I assumed he’d had a ‘no further action’ letter. Not so.


    This is important:

    He was arrested on suspicion of communicating a bomb hoax after a post on the website about blowing up the airport was reported to police.

    But charged with something quite different:

    South Yorkshire Police said: “A 26-year-old Doncaster man has been charged with sending by public communications network a message that was grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

    Enter lawyer (spit!) Jack of Kent, who gives this case a bit of scrutiny and senses an injustice in the offing that could have broad and potentially devastating implications for all internet users in the UK – everyone from swear-bloggers and twitter-trolls to green-ink emailers.

    I’ve abridged this, but I urge you to read the whole thing.


    And so, if there has to be an offence of making bomb hoaxes – a legitimate incursion into the right of free expression – it seems that the 1977 Act strikes the right balance with its onerous requirement on the prosecution before any defendant can incur criminal liability.

    Paul Chambers was duly arrested in January by South Yorkshire police on suspicion of communicating a bomb hoax under the 1977 Act; the police confirmed: “[t]he arrest relates to alleged threats about Robin Hood Airport discovered on a social networking website”.

    Do note that word “threats” here as it indicates – at this point – the seriousness of the apparent offence, at least in the eyes of the police.  The police then added: “[t]he Force take such misuse of these sites seriously and will take robust action to deal with those who choose to use them in such a way as to cause unnecessary alarm and distress to members of the public.”

    Of course, no alarm or distress – let alone “unnecessary alarm of distress” – had been caused whatsoever.  The silly joke had been reported to the police and the airport by a third party; it would appear that no one who saw the tweet regarded it as serious.  The airport later confirmed no inconvenience had been caused, other than in respect of the investigation.  Notwithstanding their worthy press statements, South Yorkshire Police were beginning to look very foolish indeed.

    Nonetheless, Paul Chambers was placed on bail.  A further police statement said:

    “There was huge public and media interest in this case. Whilst the investigation and collation of evidence was straightforward, due to the wide-spread interest in the use of Twitter in this way, the case was referred to CPS to make the decision on disposal. Based on this “public interest test” it was not appropriate for police to make this decision.
    “The CPS themselves could have decided on a caution, but based on the evidence and the public interest they decided to charge in this case, a decision that the police feel is appropriate.”

    The CPS did not decide on a caution; they decided to charge.

    Errr … What? Hold on – it’s about to get a whole lot worse – for you, me and all.

    And, curiously and importantly, this statement did not mention what Paul Chambers was to be charged with.

    The CPS had decided to charge him, but not with the offence which Parliament actually legislated for in the 1977 Act, which would require them showing evidence of Paul Chambers intending others to believe there was a bomb hoax.

    Instead the CPS decided to charge him under the little-known – and in many ways worrying – offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.  The 1977 Act, with its protection for defendants, was effectively side-stepped.

    Okay, so… no problem – we know not to make daft bomb jokes – we have to treat the whole world like the security area of an airport. Ho fucking hum.

    But no – it’s much worse than that.

    The next police statement said: “[a] 26-year-old Balby man has been charged with sending, by a public communications network, a message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

    The relevant portions of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

    (1)            A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a)           sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

    (b)           causes any such message or matter to be so sent.


    (2)           A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

    (a)           sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

    (b)           causes such a message to be sent; or

    (c)           persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

    (3)           A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

    Go on – read that again.

    You can be charged for sending a message that is ‘grossly offensive’, ‘obscene or menacing character’ – or critically – “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he ‘sends … a message that he knows to be false’.”

    And you can be sent down for six months or get a hefty fine. And we already know it doesn’t take much to be sent down for 6 months, these days.

    Back to the eminent Mr Jack.

    It can be inferred that Paul Chambers was prosecuted under section 127(1) – for sending a “menacing” message – not section 127(2), in respect of, say, causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.

    Now this is a different offence than for which Paul Chambers was arrested.

    This 2003 provision is based on an earlier provision in the 1984 Telecommunications Act, which (in those pre-internet days) was intended to deal with nuisance telephone callers.

    However, the broad definition of “public communications network” now means the offence covers the internet as much as a telephone call: and so it covers emails and internet postings of any kind.

    Do read the rest of Jack’s treatment of the case. Including case law and an exchange with the CPS. He concludes:

    It may well be that there should be legislation criminalising all internet-based messages of grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character, or sent for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to others, even if those messages are never received.

    If so, this has clear importance beyond the Twitter “bomb hoax” of Paul Chambers.  It raises a fundamental question as to the relationship between the criminal law and the users of the internet.  And this question becomes urgent if, as in this case, a fairly broad attitude is taken by the CPS to what constitutes “menace” or one of the other elements of the section 127 offence.

    But in the meantime, Paul Chambers has been convicted for an offence for which he was not arrested and for a “menace” he plainly did not intend to make, and nor was taken as such.  All this because there is a “public interest” in prosecuting him, even if the relevant offence does not apply.

    It seems to me that an injustice is occurring; and, with the CPS’s new attitude to section 127, such injustices are likely to occur again.

    Right. Tin-foil hat time.

    Consider the possibility that, either before or because of this case, Harriet Harman, having arriving on Twitter, doubtless to howls of loathing, or Jack Straw, has had a word in the ear of Kier Starmer QC. He is head of the CPS and clearly left leaning. Now the likes of KerryMP have a nuclear option, which they’re perfectly vindictive enough to activate.

    It’s pretty clear that we’re heading for a dirty election campaign, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of the most effective and/or successfully antagonistic right wing bloggers, commenters and tweeters had a knock on the door one morning, with all that follows – in particular, confiscation of all your computer gear and phones, an arrest under s.127(2) and a bail date just after the election.

    Jahomstradamus has spoken.

    Chambers was granted unconditional bail until the sentencing hearing at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court on 12 March.

    A date for my diary.


    A joke, surely?

    Via Twatter: #twitterarrest


    Ready for this?

    When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers’s travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. “Robin Hood airport is closed,” he wrote. “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

    Obviously a statement of grave intent. Not.

    Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn’t see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat. After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life.

    Think about that.

    On 13 January, after apparently receiving a tip-off from a member of the public, police arrived at Mr Chambers’ office.

    A week after a comment was posted on Twitter. Pigs turn up at your workplace. After a tip-off by a member of the public total fucking cunt. You’re arrested, DNA taken, interrogated for 7 hours and suspended from your job. Oh and they’ve got your laptop, your PC and your phone.

    He has been bailed until 11 February, when he will be told whether or not he will be charged with conspiring to create a bomb hoax. In the interim, detectives have confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.

    You may be familiar with the feeling of dread one experiences on wondering if that speed camera you only saw at the last minute got you. 14 days to wait until you know one way or the other.

    For all you know, the comment that’s going to see you arrested tomorrow is a throw-away remark you posted last Tuesday. Have you called Sunny Hundal a cunt? Said you’d like to rip off Gordon Brown’s head and shit down his neck? Listen for the door bell, now. And you’d better hope the pigs’ fishing expedition on your hard-drives doesn’t find anything dodgy.