Twitter joke case finally over as Paul Chambers is acquitted

Jul 27, 2012

Twitter rejoices as judge decides there was nothing menacing about 'threat' to blow up airport

PAUL CHAMBERS, now better known as the 'Twitter joke man', has had his conviction for sending a "menacing" tweet quashed at the High Court after a two-year legal battle. The case became a cause celebre and attracted the the support of high-profile politicians, lawyers and comedians including Stephen Fry and Al Murray.
The 28-year-old accountant was given a criminal record, fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs by Doncaster magistrates in 2010 after he sent a tweet that read: "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!"
The verdict was upheld on appeal and, as The Guardian explains, "Chambers's battle to have his conviction overturned rapidly escalated into a public confrontation with the judicial establishment, highlighting the law's difficulties in discriminating between the differing tones of voice deployed in emails, tweets and text messaging."
At today's hearing Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge pointed out that nobody who saw the tweet believed it was a genuine bomb threat. It was not sent to airport staff and was only spotted five days after it had been posted and only passed through the system because of a sense of duty.
"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," he said.
In his High Court hearing Chambers was represented by solicitor David Allan Green, himself a high-profile tweeter and legal blogger for the New Statesman. Afterwards he hailed Chambers as a "man of incredible character" who had the courage to fight the charge against him. Green said the ruling "at a stroke, makes social media a safer place for people with less legal risk".
Green later took to Twitter where he rounded on the establishment. "This shameful prosecution should never have been brought. The DPP made the personal decision to oppose the appeal. Disgraceful," he raged.
Comedian Al Murray said the ruling was "crucial" for freedom of speech. "The British pride themselves on having the greatest sense of humour in the world, and they have demonstrated that by ending up in the Royal Courts of Justice prosecuting someone over a throwaway remark. In 100 years there will be an operetta about this."
Chambers's MP, Louise Mensch, attacked the CPS for pursuing the case in the first place and promised that MPs would ask "searching questions about why freedom of speech was trashed".
The BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman explained that the judgement "emphasises that context is everything". He added: "Campaigners who supported Mr Chambers regard this ruling as commonsense catching up with the law, which now clearly accommodates irony, wit and bad taste."
Chambers himself thanked his supporters on the social networking site, who raised money to fund his defence, as Twitter celebrated the ruling.
Father Ted writer Graham Linehan noted: "[It has] taken 2 years for British judges to hear a definition of Twitter that they understood. Welcome to the 21st Century, chaps." But journalist Ben Goldacre declared that the whole legal process was "a disappointing stain on the credibility of the uk judiciary".
Of course, there were plenty of jokes too. One wag noted: "After his acquittal Paul Chambers tweeted he was going to 'celebrate and paint the town red'... he was arrested again for a graffiti offence."

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