The public money wasted on this trial is no joking matter


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The Independent Online

What Paul Chambers innocently Tweeted as long ago as the January 6 2010 was not the only joke in what has become known as the Twitter Joke Trial.

Perhaps the biggest belly laugh is the fact that the CPS thought it appropriate to expose the public purse to thousands of pounds of expenditure from 7 separate court hearings. But of course if that is a joke, it is a very bad joke.

From the moment Paul Chambers was arrested at his place of work, by anti – terrorist officers the farce which has been the Twitter Joke Trial has progressed from Doncaster Magistrates Court to the highest criminal judge in the country, The Lord Chief Justice.

All this could have been stopped very quickly. On February 10 2010, when the police investigation was completed , one of the investigating officers recorded the following observation, “ there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that there is anything other than a foolish comment posted on“ Twitter” as  a joke for only his close friends to see “.

But for some reason, the DPP decided to push this case into the Lord Chief Justice’s court. 

The case turned upon whether the Tweet sent by Paul Chambers to his girlfriend was menacing. Interpreted more widely and also correctly, it represented a challenge as to whether you could be prosecuted for making a joke – however bad.

This is perhaps why a wealth of well-known comedians and writers including Stephen Fry , Al Murray and Graham Linehan gave their public backing to the Paul Chambers case and turned up to court on his behalf to hear arguments. For them and many others this case was no more or no less an attack by the CPS on a person’s right to crack a joke.

In the end, after hours of legal argument the Lord Chief Justice has ruled that the Communication Act 2003 , Section 127 (1)  (a) when proscribing messages of   “ a menacing character” requires the prosecution to prove that the sender of the message was acting menacingly and intending to menace. As the Lord Chief Justice put it “ if he may have intended the message as a joke , even if a poor joke in bad taste, it is unlikely that the ( mental element) required before conviction for the offence of sending the message of a menacing character will be established.“

Freedom of speech once again prevails on “Twitter”, but the CPS challenge to it was no joking matter.

John Cooper QC, of 25 Bedford Row Chambers, acted for Paul Chambers during his appeal.