Bad Law – the TwitterJokeTrial appeal

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Readers' comments (2)

  • This lies somewhere between high farce and the Kafkaesque

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  • I profess no legal expertise whatsoever, but I have followed this case closely since its inception and I think I understand the details better than most members of the “laity”.

    I have to admit that I struggle to understand what “free speech” has to do with it. If Paul Chambers *had* sent a menacing message to the staff of Robin Hood Airport containing a credible threat, then I don’t really see that his right to free speech would be any kind of defence.

    My view of the case is simply that (using the normal meanings of the words) Paul Chambers did not do any of the things of which he stands convicted.

    Mr Chambers did not “send” anything to anyone. He posted a hyperbolic tweet on a website. It was visible to his followers (the intended audience) for a few minutes. The airport officials who saw the tweet found it because they data-mined the Twitter archives.

    Mr Chambers did not send a “message” (see also above). You can use Twitter to send a public or a private message to another user, but he didn’t. He posted a normal “tweet” – sometimes also called a “micro-blog”.

    And finally (using the normal meanings of the words) MrChambers did not send a message that was of a “menacing character”. He did not intend to convey any kind of menace (otherwise he would have been quite properly charged with communicating a bomb hoax under the Criminal Law Act of 1977) and he did not cause any perception of menace (or if he did, the authorities were criminally negligent in waiting until after the “deadline” had expired before contacting Paul). In reality, the Airport staff assessed the “threat” as “non-credible” and the police realized it was a joke.

    In order to assert the “menacing character” of the tweet, the courts have had to resort to arguing that a message can somehow be menacing “per se” or “objectively menacing”. To illustrate this point, a highly implausible scenario was imagined in which a couple setting out to the (closed) airport become alarmed because they have searched the twitter archives for information about the airport (rather than going on the airport website) and found Mr Chambers'stweet.

    Of course, given an elaborate context, far removed from the actual context in which a remark is made, *any* remark may be considered menacing. Even the message “I love you” sent by an unwelcome suitor who is stalking his victim may, given the right context, be a very menacing message indeed.

    If all tweets are messages and all messages can be awarded whatever context the human mind can devise, then all tweets are menacing and the law is an ass!


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