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Accountant cleared at High Court after Twitter joke trial - July-27-12
Source: The Times - Law
A man found guilty of sending a menacing message after posting a joke on Twitter was cleared today at the High Court.
Paul Chambers, 28, was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending “a message of a menacing character”, contrary to the provisions of the 2003 Communications Act,
The accountant said that he sent the tweet to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire was closed by snow in January 2010, and never thought that anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously.
It read: “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!”
But in November 2010 Crown Court judge Jacqueline Davies, sitting with two magistrates, dismissed his appeal, saying that the electronic communication was “clearly menacing” and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.
Today, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said: “We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the Crown Court that this ’tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it.
“On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed.”
Mr Chambers had attracted celebrity support in his fight to clear his name and was flanked by the broadcaster Stephen Fry and Al Murray, the comdedian, at the start of his appeal.
Opening an attempt to overturn his conviction and sentence, John Cooper, QC, had told Lord Judge, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams that the wrong legal tests had been applied.
He said that the message was tweeted to Mr Chambers’s followers. The relevant section of the Act was never intended by Parliament to deal with messages to the “world at large”, he added.
The circumstances of the offence of a “menacing character” had a higher legal threshold than that of a “threatening character”. Nor were all threats menaces, Mr Cooper said.
To constitute a menace, the threat must be of such a nature that the mind of an “ordinary person of normal stability and courage” might be influenced.
The person sending the message must intend to threaten the person to whom the message was sent — in other words, it was a crime of specific intent.
Mr Chambers’s right to freedom of speech under the European Convention was engaged, he told the court.
Mr Cooper added that the 2003 Act did not “bite” as the social media platform involved was “a content service” and therefore outside the definition of both public electronic communication service and public electronic network.
Al Murray described the conviction as “monstrously unjust”.
He said: “He [Mr Chambers] made a passing remark to his followers, to his friends, to people who joined in with his way of looking at the world.
“It was found randomly by someone else and the law has, like one of those Python 10-tonne weights, dropped on top of him.
“The funniest thing is hearing it [the tweet] read out in court by a QC in his wig.
“Even when it’s said deadpan by a QC it’s funny,” he added. “It’s obviously a joke.”
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