Twitter trolls: CPS to rethink rules on social media abuse

Sep 20, 2012
Hollie Clemence

No charges over homophobic Tom Daley tweet, as Keir Starmer raises bar for criminal prosecution

THE COUNTRY'S most senior prosecutor is to issue guidelines on how the legal system should deal with online trolls - with plans to set a high threshold for criminal prosecution.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said the time has come for an "informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media".

Starmer's plans were announced as he decided no charges would be made against the semi-professional footballer Daniel Thomas, who wrote a homophobic tweet about Tom Daley during the Olympics.

In a statement about the ruling, Starmer said Thomas's message was "not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought". He conceded that in some cases a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response, such as when there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained.

"But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response,” he said. “If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest."

Starmer and the CPS faced severe criticism for the handling of Paul Chambers's ‘Twitter joke trial’ earlier this year. Chambers was found guilty of sending a "menacing communication" after he joked about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster and then had his conviction overturned in July.

But The Daily Telegraph's Matt Warman was quick to praise Starmer's new plans, saying Twitter users can now "live without fear of 'Stasi-style prosecutions'".

"Today – thankfully – the British right to free, often funny and sometimes offensive speech was reaffirmed," he said.

Starmer’s statement came as police arrested a 22-year-old man over an "offensive" Facebook page set up following the deaths of PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone on Tuesday.

The man was arrested by Merseyside Police on Wednesday night over a Facebook tribute page, which appeared online within hours of the attack and lauded murder suspect Dale Cregan as a "legend".

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