As is well documented Chambers sent the following tweet:
“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!”Incredibly sending this tweet ended up with Chambers arrested and then convicted damaging his career and wasting literally months of his life.
By continuing the appeal Paul Chambers and his lawyer David Allen Green have done us all a favour by producing a High Court ruling on this kind of situation that sets a precedent and should hopefully prevent others going through the ordeal that he did.
As ever the full judgement is useful and interesting to read. Written by the Lord Chief Justice, the most senior Judge in England and Wales there are two particularly interesting sections to the judgement that I wanted to draw attention to.
Firstly the nature of Twitter and Tweets which seems to be mis-understood by many. This is discussed here:
“Tweets” include expressions of opinion, assertions of fact, gossip, jokes (bad ones as well as good ones), descriptions of what the user is or has been doing, or where he has been, or intends to go. Effectively it may communicate any information at all that the user wishes to send, and for some users, at any rate, it represents no more and no less than conversation without speech.The conversational nature of twitter, the fact that it is more like a conversation is a key point. It cannot and should not be taken as something akin to a newspaper article like a regular website or a blog post like this is.
Even more significantly Lord Judge discusses the creation of the offence itself:
The 2003 Act did not create some newly minted interference with the first of President Roosevelt’s essential freedoms – freedom of speech and expression. Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished by this legislation. Given the submissions by Mr Cooper, we should perhaps add that for those who have the inclination to use “Twitter” for the purpose, Shakespeare can be quoted unbowdlerised, and with Edgar, at the end of King Lear, they are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel.So there is a lesson here for those who seek to use legislation such as this - or indeed claims of harassment - in order to interfere with freedom of speech.
I do hope the Seckford Foundation and their friends are listening carefully.
Those who seek to complain about the use of Twitter for instance by contacting people’s employer, or schools where they are a Governor better make sure they have never themselves made a bad joke or sworn down the pub. As Judge says Twitter represents no more and no less than conversation without speech.
And those that seek to define menace or distress in such a way as to turn political campaigning or indeed journalism into “harassment” need to remember that freedom of speech means the freedom to make Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
As John Kampfur writes in The Guardian:
The authorities are not solely to blame for this state of affairs. We the public, both Twitter-using and non-Twitter-using, have elevated taking offence to a human right. We see hurt and danger around every corner and lurking in every missive. For sure, some are beyond the pale. One or two might be prosecutable. But, for the most part we should develop a thicker skin, keep calm and carry on.Quite. I hope you are listening Messers Watson and Finbow!