Friday, 27 July 2012

Paul Chambers Twitter Trial - post mortem

 "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."
You can see how the magistrate at Doncaster magistrate's court in May 2010 may have been baffled by the high-power prosecution from the Crown Prosecution Service.  In a string of cases over the past two years they have been misapplying law which is broadly written so that they can use it when they need to. Instead, various jobsworths have been trying to score departmental points by bringing novelty cases which should never have got past the screening such as the golliwog in the window and the ludicrous John Terry case.

Paul Chambers was fined  and ordered to pay £600 costs  after being convicted of sending "a message of a menacing character", contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.  This famous message:
"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!"
Much harder to see is why Judge Jacqueline Davies, sitting with two magistrates, dismissed his appeal his appeal in November 2010, saying that the electronic communication was "clearly menacing". 

It's clearly NOT menacing. Nobody gives you 'a week and a bit' in a threat.  In the context of the delay being down to snow, it was obviously a self-referential jibe at the expense of people who say unreasonable things.

There were linguists all over explaining the classic form of the joke, plus the fact that Chambers was fully identified, which should have given her a clue.  Maybe the two magistrates also on the bench were too much in awe of her, too sympathetic, to do what they should have done - take her aside and offer her a drink of water or maybe she should let somebody else hear the case? Maybe somebody not so het-up about personal matters?

Judge Jacqueline Davies lost her much loved husband,  Paul Clark  in  October 2008 and had trekked across the Sinai Desert in memory of him in 2009

Invent Partners thought she was just ignorant of the technology and so relied on what ever gubbins the CPS told her.  They sent an open letter, but not, unfortunately, until it was already obvious that she didn't understand what she had been told.

The nub of it is this: either Jacqueline Davies is a woman who doesn't speak English well enough to understand a joke or her personal grief intruded in to her judgment so that she failed to back-stop the CPS lawyers on the make.  The airport staff are absolved; they just have to report this rubbish, not take a view on it.

None of the magistrates come out of this well; they are supposed to be bastions of common sense under the common law, but at least three here allowed themselves to be cowed, or maybe they also didn't understand what they were being asked to rule on.

My condolences to Her Honour Judge Jacqueline Davies, but grief and ignorance are a bad mix at any time, disastrous in a judge who has not only to sentence the guilty but perform the function of stopping the state - in the person of the CPS this time - from oppressing the innocent citizen.

Judge Jacqueline Davies won't be the only judge who has been wrong-footed by the CPS.  It has been bringing cases, reckless as to whether it is likely to win or lose because it is using the process as punishment.

Paul Chambers had his life turned upside down, lost his job, has a criminal record which although quashed will always be revealed by an enhanced CRB check,  by CPS workers who have managed to hide behind a judge.

He is owed a huge  apology, reparations, and a job for life at the CPS as he now knows much more about the law than they do.

Update 11/04/2013

At the end of 2012 the CPS issued interim guidelines about the prosecution of alleged offences concerning the social media.

Here are the interim guidelines


JuliaM said...

"It has been bringing cases, reckless as to whether it is likely to win or lose because it is using the process as punishment."

Spot on! Kier Starmer needs to go.

Uncle Badger said...

It is hard to understand why such a nakedly political appointment has withstood a change of junta, I must say.