High Court in stalemate over Twitter bomb hoax case

High Court judges are split over whether a man who tweeted a threat to blow up an airport was joking or was a menace to society.

At an appeal hearing in February, the conviction of Paul Chambers for sending a menacing electronic communication was challenged by his barrister Ben Emmerson QC of Matrix Chambers, instructed by Preiskel & Co head of media David Allen Green.

Sir Peter Gross and Mr Justice Irwin were undecided over the landmark Twitter ‘bomb hoax’ appeal and have made an order for a new appeal to be heard.

It will now have to be re-heard by a three-judge panel. Green called the split decision “exceptional” and said it may only be the second time it has happened this century. No new date has been set for the new hearing.

In January 2010 Chambers tweeted in frustration when an airport in Doncaster was closed by snow (2 March 2010). He said: “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!!”

Despite arguing that it was merely a joke, he was found guilty under the Communications Act by Doncaster magistrates.

When Chambers appealed his conviction, CPS special appeals unit lawyer Tracey Wareham instructed Robert Smith QC of Park Court Chambers to act on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer.

Emmerson had previously told the appeal that the “disproportionate” decision against his client was like using “a steamroller to crack a nut”.

Smith said the tweet lacked surrounding context and therefore had to be treated as a genuine threat, rather than a joke.

Chambers has enjoyed support from celebrity Twitter users who have been fundraising to pay for his legal costs. They believe a High Court decision against him will restrict freedom of speech on the social network site, claiming his message was simply a “bad joke”.

At the time of the tweet, airport security officials did not believe the message was a credible threat because Chambers had put his name to the message and was a passenger.