Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!! #IAmSpartacus
Summary of Events to Conviction and Failed Appeal
The above is what Paul Chambers tweeted through his PaulJChambers Twitter account on 6 January 2010. On 10 May 2010, Chambers was convicted at Doncaster magistrates court of
“sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003”. He was fined £1000, had to pay legal costs of c£2000 and lost his job as a financial manager.
On appeal, English judge The Right Honourable Jacqueline Davis had to determine whether this was a menacing communication for the purposes of section 127 of The Communications Act 2003 . She held that it was menacing and, thus, Paul’s appeal failed. The UK has been left with a precedent that is, arguably, extremely dangerous for freedom of speech and common sense itself.
Summary of Events post-conviction
Following the conviction, there was an immediate pretence of fear and sarcastic revolt with users, or “tweeps”, changing their biographies to include the disclaimer “My tweets are not intended to be menacing”. Some caveated their tweets with “lol” to question whether that would get around it. Then, within a day,Twitter erupted, the community being bombarded with thousands of tweets repeating, or “retweeting”, what Paul Chambers had originally tweeted, using the hashtag #Iamspartacus, which, as with the #twitterjoketrial hashtag, were the number 1 and 2 trending items on Twitter across the world at one point. In fact, some went further, stating that they would blow up the Houses of Parliament and other public infrastructure.
There is so much literature online now regarding the Twitter Joke Trial that to reference everything would be next to impossible. One piece that springs out is an open letter to The Honourable Judge Jacqueline Davies by Matt Bradley, a web 2.0 expert.. It begins:-
Dear Judge Jacqueline Davies,
Having witnessed for myself your dismissal of the half time motion and subsequent questioning of the evidence in the Paul Chambers appeal: what has now become known as the “Twitter Joke Trial”, it is abundantly clear to me that despite your earnest efforts to do so, you have not fully understood the nature of Twitter, its audience, or the underlying technology, and how this applies to the definition of a “public telecommunications network”.
It may be argued that none of the retweeted threats to blow up airports were quite as menacing as the first tweet by Paul Chambers, but if the English judiciary is to stand by its precedent, then why has no further enforcement taken place? The reason is that society, which takes a place in any legal system, has revolted against what is surely one of the most misguided pieces of judicial reasoning of the 21st century, principally due to the common failure of the law to keep up with technology.
A Twitter Joke Trial Fund has been set up to reimburse Paul Chambers. The fund has received a total of £14,329.71 as at 1 December 2010 and is still growing. Stephen Fry himself offered to reimbuse Paul for his losses.
Paul Chambers’s Twitter Account
Paul’s Twitter account has now shot up from several hundred followers to almost 6,500 followers in the space of a month Paul’s Twitter Account . His bio links to a website seemingly unrelated to him called The Film Stage, which suggests that The Film Stage are sponsoring Paul’s tweets for a cash sum. CORRECTION from Paul Chambers to Gavin Ward via this Twitter post upon reading this article,
I write for The Film Stage, though I haven’t written any pieces for them in a couple of months due to this madness.
And Paul’s bio now rather aptly says the following:-
Was once a relatively unknown idiot. Now bringing idiocy worldwide.
Paul may be an unimpressive witness, but he is now a very very famous one.
Paul Chambers is to appeal his conviction in the High Court . David Allen Green, head of media law at Preiskel & Co, and Ben Emmerson QC of Matrix Chambers, one of the UK’s leading human rights and criminal lawyers, have been instructed, in addition to former lawyers Stephen Ferguson and Sarah Przybylska. WardblawG wishes them the best of luck. The world will have its eyes on the England legal system for the appeal which is now likely to be heard at some point early next year. Because English High Court decisions are persuasive in Scottish courts, Scotland will suffer the tail-end of any judgments that sit unhappily with the British, online and, indeed, global population. It is hoped that common sense prevails.
I am WardblawG, and I approve this message.
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