Preiskel & Co wins Twitter joke trial

Preiskel & Co’s David Allen Green, 25 Bedford Row’s John Cooper QC and 2 Hare Court’s Sarah Przybylska have overturned a conviction in the high-profile Twitter ‘menacing tweet’ case.


David Allen Green
David Allen Green

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge allowed Paul Chambers’ appeal against his 2010 conviction for sending a “menacing” electronic communication after he tweeted about Doncaster Airport.

A spontaneous round of applause broke out in court at the decision.

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 to argue that the conviction should stand.

Today the CPS said it had no plans to appeal.

Chambers claimed that he was joking when he tweeted in January 2010 about a snow-closed Doncaster airport: “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 a judgment handed down this morning, Judge LCJ said: “The appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this “tweet” did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character.

“It is difficult to image a serious threat in which warning of it is given to a large number of tweet “followers” in ample time for the threat to be reported and extinguished.

“It was treated and addressed as if it was not a credible threat. The airport police took no action. No evidence was provided to suggest that even minimal consequential protective measures were taken at the airport, or that the level of perceived threat was heightened.

“Indeed, notwithstanding the nature of the “threat”, we can detect no urgent response to it. Police action was not exactly hurried. After the investigation, the South Yorkshire Police concluded that the appellant presented no threat.”

“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.”

Also involved for the appellant was a Baker & McKenzie team led by partner Harry Small who looked into the interpretation of the word ‘menacing’ across 30 countries to support Chambers’ case.

Small said: “This prosecution was a grotesque waste of public money.”

The CPS said in a statement: “It was important that the High Court deliver a judgment on this matter so that both the public and those working in the criminal justice system could be certain of the law regarding the sending of menacing messages. We respect the court’s decision and will not be appealing.

“Following our decision to charge Mr Chambers, both the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court, in upholding his conviction, agreed that his message had the potential to cause real concern to members of the public, such as those travelling through the airport during the relevant time.

“Presenting our case allowed the High Court to hear both sides and reach a fully considered decision. We have noted and accepted the court’s reasoning.”

At a previous High Court hearing, two judges were split (28 May 2012).

Judge LCJ chaired a specially convened panel in a bid to finally rule on the long-running case.

Read the full judgment here

And click here for The Lawyer’s previous coverage on the Twitter joke trial:

2 March 2010

David Allen Green’s original blog on 2 March 2009