Paul Chambers v DPP  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”
Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ - indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.
Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?
On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.
The Lord Chief Justice has issued interim guidance on the use of live text-based forms of communication, including Twitter, from court for the purpose of fair and accurate reporting.
For the time being, it will be possible to apply to a judge for permission to turn on one’s mobile phone or computer in order to tweet. Judges must consider whether the application “may interfere with the proper administration of justice“. The most obvious purpose for permitting the use of live, text-based communications “would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings.”
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