Twitter users “free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel”

Paul Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157 – Read judgment

The famous ‘Twitter joke’ conviction of Paul Chambers has been overturned on appeal, bringing welcome clarity to what is and what is not an offence of this type. On discovering a week before he was due to take a flight that the airport was closed due to adverse weather conditions, he tweeted that “I am blowing the airport sky high!!” unless the situation was resolved by the time of his flight. He was convicted of sending a message of a “menacing character”, but has had the conviction quashed on appeal, on the basis that, as it was a joke, it was not of a menacing character.

“I had decided to resort to terrorism”

Mr Chambers was intending to fly out of Robin Hood Airport on 15 January 2010 to meet a romantic partner he met on Twitter. On 6 January, via Twitter, he became aware that severe weather was causing problems at the airport, and engaged in a conversation on Twitter where he made the following comments:

“…I was thinking that if it does [close due to adverse weather] then I had
decided to resort to terrorism”

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Twitter joke trial: Do “offensive” tweeters have freedom of expression rights?

In January of this year Paul Chambers used Twitter to express his feelings about the possible closure of Robin Hood Airport due to snow, which he feared would thwart his trip to Belfast to meet his new girlfriend, a fellow twitterer going by the name @Crazycolours.

He said via his @pauljchambers Twitter account:

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 consequences of his tweet were summarised in the Guardian:

A week later, he was arrested at work by five police officers, questioned for eight hours, had his computers and phones seized and was subsequently charged and convicted of causing a “menace” under the Communications Act 2003 .

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