Monday, 10 May 2010
One day, Paul Chambers sent a "tweet" to his followers on Twitter; it was a joke which came out of frustration:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
It was perhaps not the funniest joke.
Indeed, it was in bad taste and really not at all funny.
But it was sent only to his followers who knew of his sense of humour.
No alarm or distress was caused.
However, someone then forwarded it to East Midlands Airport, who were also not alarmed or distressed, and then they in turn passed it on to the South Yorkshire Police who began an investigation for a "bomb hoax".
What would they do?
Perhaps a sensible word?
An application of common sense?
Paul was arrested and questioned on suspicion for the "bomb hoax" offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977.
The case was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The role of the CPS is to see if there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prosecution and to then determine whether such a prosecution was in the public interest.
And what happened next was, in my view, an outrage.
(I have detailed and evidenced the following here and here.)
The CPS realised that they did not have sufficient evidence for the bomb hoax offence under the 1977 Act, that is the actual legislation dealing with supposed bomb hoaxes.
But the CPS were going to prosecute him anyway, as it was in the public interest to do so.
The problem would be that there would need to be an offence.
Thankfully, the CPS cannot (or at least should not) just prosecute someone in the "public interest" without an offence.
So some bright spark came up with section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
This makes it an offence for a person to send a "menacing" message over a public telecommunications network.
It is a rarely used offence - there is no case law - and it was certainly not understood when Paul first came to trial.
So, bizarrely and illiberally, he was charged and prosecuted
It seems that all those involved understood the section 127 offence to be a strict liability offence.
That is, the offence would be committed on sending the message, regardless of intention (or indeed context).
Accordingly, Paul was advised to plead Guilty, which he did.
This is when I got involved.
The blogposts which I have already linked to seemed to result in a change of solicitor and a change of plea to Not Guilty.
Such a "vacation" of a plea can only be done with the permission of the court.
And I have posted here the excellently-reasoned decision of the court to allow Paul to change his plea.
This meant Paul could plead Not Guilty and force the CPS to prove their case against him.
The trial is today.
Lets see what happens next.
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