As if the recent blocks to libel reform weren’t enough to make the UK’s legal system look like an archaic embarrassment to the world, the system has now been humiliated further by being used to prosecute a Twitter user for joking about bombing an airport.
Back in January, Twitter user Paul Chambers caught the attention of South Yorkshire police by making a joke about bombing Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport. The tweet read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
Given how seriously airports take jokes about bomb threats, we’ll admit that this wasn’t the most sensible thing to tweet, and it’s also hardly a prime example of innovative wit either. However, seeing as the tweet was only intended to be read by Chambers’ Twitter followers, it seems ridiculous to have fined him £1,000 for the online gaffe, as well as giving him a criminal record.
The final verdict was revealed by the court this afternoon, and Chambers has already responded on Twitter saying “I'd like to thank the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] for their level-best efforts in f***ing up the life of an ordinary citizen. I love Britain.”
The Twitter world has been awaiting the verdict of the trial all day, with the sarcastic #twitterjoketrial topic appended to relevant tweets. The topic is currently one of Twitter’s top ten trending topics, and the online world appears to be outraged at the decision.
Chambers was originally arrested and questioned under the Criminal Law Act 1977, but when it became clear that Chambers wasn’t in fact a real-life bomber, the CPS instead prosecuted him under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending an "indecent, obscene or menacing" message using telecommunications.
For more information, we thoroughly recommend reading David Allen Green’s (aka Jack of Kent) blog about the case. Green’s blogging on the subject led to a change of plea to not guilty, as well as a change of solicitor, but this still wasn’t enough to knock any sense into the CPS.
Tweeting about the verdict, Green commented that after “ten years of 9/11, security and anti-terrorism, we now are giving criminal records to young men for private jokes.”
Be careful what you tweet, folks.
[Yeah, otherwise we'll come and beat you up. D'Oh! Ed.]