February 13, 2012

#TwitterJokeTrial again!

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 1:07 pm

Last Wednesday, together with a number of other supporters of Paul Chambers, I found myself sat in the High Court in London to witness the latest hearing concerning the #TwitterJokeTrial. If you don’t know what that is, really – do try to keep up… I’ve discussed the trial extensively, and a quick visit to Google should tell you everything you need to know.

We found ourselves before the High Court because Paul’s Crown Court Appeal against his conviction failed, meaning we were left with something called an “Appeal Against Case Stated”. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that this means that we do not disagree with the findings of the Crown Court, but rather with the manner in which they chose to apply the law. This seemed an odd strategy to me, particularly in light of the fact that most supporters took exception with just about everything the Crown Court said, but lest we forget, I am not a lawyer. No – I’m a muppet – Paul’s legal team are some of the best legal minds in the country, so I defer to their infinitely better judgement on that one.

Essentially though, the case seems to have been reduced the a point where the court are satisfied that the offence is made out, and Paul’s fate seems to rest on his right to Freedom of Expression in Article 10 of the European Convention On Human Rights. My understanding (gleaned through osmosis whilst sat at the back of the court) is that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute – there are legal caveats for matters such as national security etc – but the underlying principle is that you’re free to say what you like.

In order to test whether or not Paul’s freedom of expression has been lawfully restricted, the High Court will now have to determine whether in light of the content, context and intended audience of the tweet, prosecution for the tweet was truly a proportionate response. If they find (as I hope) that it wasn’t, Paul gets his legal slate cleaned, and can begin the process of rebuilding his life. If not, well, we’ll come to that in a moment.

An important thing to realise at this point though is that if Paul wins by way of a lack of proportionality in the decision to bring the prosecution in the first place, this will still leave intact the finding by Doncaster Crown Court that the message was “Menacing and obviously so…”, together with idea that such a message constituted an offence. Which means that in terms of freedom of expression for the rest of us, all our fears are realised. Just a few things to consider :

  • The judiciary, despite being ignorant of social media, are making judgements on it.
  • When testing any message, it will no longer be considered important whether the author intended it to be menacing / threatening, but rather whether anyone (even a fictional person) might reasonably find it so. That’s a fundamental shift.
  • Does a website owner, who can be argued to have caused a message appearing on the site to have been sent, become liable for unsafe content made by users of his / her site?
  • The fact that this law extends well beyond mere mis-interpretted humour, but to ANYTHING we post online.

So, if Paul does win on proportionality grounds, it will certainly be a victory, but for the rest of us on the internet perhaps a somewhat hollow one. Still, a win is a win, and an end to the ridiculous impact this case has had on Paul and Sarah’s lives cannot come soon enough…

So what if Paul loses? Well, if that happens, the first decision to be taken will be whether Paul wishes to continue to fight. If he doesn’t want to continue the battle, then frankly I think it is incumbent on all his supporters to respect his position. I will – continuing to fight will be every bit as stressful as it has already proven so far, and so the decision to fight on is Paul’s alone.

If he does fight, then my understanding is that we’ll probably be looking at the Supreme Court, and from there (again, assuming he continues to fight) Europe.

One thing is certain however, is Paul does fight on, he is going to need support. I dare say we’ll be organising fundraising, public awareness and (entirely peaceful) protest – but these all come later. First order of business is to get the decision from the High Court – then either go out and get ratted / allow Paul time for reflection (delete as applicable at the time).

Regardless of how things transpire, he will continue to have my complete support.

Which brings me on to a final point – Paul is finding it very difficult to secure employment due to both his conviction and the notoriety of the case. So, if you’re in the Belfast area and looking to recruit a hard working, intelligent, loyal and grateful sort of chap, and you’re not minded to hold this matter against him, let him know about it! (@pauljchambers).


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