Written by Peter Fisher – v2lawblog
May 2010 is always a date that makes me nostalgic. R v Paul Chambers, better known as the ‘twitter joke trial’ was the first time a court case really stood out for me and will always be a part of my legal career. Paul Chambers wrote on twitter:
“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!!”
In 2010 he was convicted of sending a “public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003”. He was found guilty at Doncaster magistrates court and was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs despite the testimony of an off duty manager at the airport who stated that he found the threat “not credible”. He lost his job as a consequence of the conviction. The conviction was widely held as unfair and a miscarriage of justice. Such was its unpopularity that Steven Fry personally offered to pay the fine and subsequent legal fees needed to appeal the decision. He and Al Murray attended court to support Paul Chambers appeal
The case was appealed 3 times and generated a massive following on twitter. While the first two appeals were unsuccessful the third resulted in the conviction being quashed meaning Paul Chambers would not be convicted of his controversial message.
On the 27th of July 2012, at the third appeal it was held that “a message which does not create fear or apprehension in those to whom it is communicated, or who may reasonably be expected to see it, falls outside this provision [of the 2003 Act]”
Ultimately, the case raises two particularly interesting legal questions.
Firstly, should people be convicted for posting indecent messages on the internet? Well, there certainly is a lot of people that believe the answer to this question should be no. What do you think?
Secondly how much does public influence affect the result of a trial?
It can be speculated that the third appeal courts decision was simply a correction on the last courts misuse of a statute but it could also be speculated that the extreme unpopularity of the decision combined with the level of support from the public was the real reason the conviction was quashed. Is the secret to escaping a conviction to generate a massive following?
Let us know what you think, Comment at
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