Twitter joke trial won: Paul Chambers wins appeal

Paul Chambers, found guilty last year of 'threatening' on Twitter to blow an airport sky high, has won his High Court appeal.

Paul Chambers, who was found guilty last year of sending a menacing tweet when he 'threatened' to blow Robin Hood airport sky high, has won his High Court appeal.

The conviction was quashed when the appeal judge ruled that his message was "not of a menacing character". The court found that "a message which does not create apprehension does not fall within S127", the section of the Communications Act 2003 under which Chambers was charged.

In his judgement, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge (yes, that's his real name) wrote: "There was no evidence before the Crown Court to suggest that any of the followers of the appellant's 'tweet', or indeed anyone else who may have seen the 'tweet' posted on the appellant's time line, found it to be of a menacing character or, at a time when the threat of terrorism is real, even minimally alarming."

In typically understated fashion, Chambers merely tweeted, "So... it's been an alright day so far. In the scheme of things. I suppose."

You can understand he might well have mixed feelings about the result. He has lost two jobs since being charged with the offence, but will have his costs paid. The Crown Prosecution Service has been heavily criticised for bringing the prosecution.

Louise Mensch MP tweeted, "[The] CPS owe my constituent @pauljchambers and the country a huge apology for a shameful prosecution that should never have been brought."

The case attracted widespread sympathy on Twitter and many celebrity supporters. Stephen Fry declared he would go back to prison , if necessary, to protest the conviction.

"Just amazing. Can't believe it. What great news," tweeted the writer Graham Linehan, another high-profile supporter of Chambers.

David Allen Green, a prominent legal blogger and Chambers' solicitor in the case, simply tweeted, "Win" and "Acquittal".

Chambers' tweet merely read: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" He was about to go on holiday to see his girlfriend and was worried that heavy snow would thwart his romantic plans.

The case seemed to highlight the extraordinary gulf between the practical workings of the law and the reality of modern life -- a "Who are the Beatles?" moment for the 21st century. The idea that people can simply publish their thoughts, to be read by anyone but only understood by those close to them, is alien to a legal system still struggling to cope with the demands of the printing press.

That may be reading too much into it. The police investigating the 'threat' found no reason to suspect any real menace. The CPS' decision to prosecute was absolutely baffling, as was the original conviction. Happily, the High Court has done its job and found a common-sense interpretation of the law -- although importantly it has not discounted Twitter as a medium for sending threatening messages, it's merely decided that this particular message carried no threat.

Many congratulations to Chambers and his legal team. I hope he can get back to his normal life.

 

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