|Mr Paul Chambers|
Updated with links 28th July
A Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division has allowed the appeal by Mr Paul Chambers against his conviction of the offence under the Communications Act See the full judgment -  EWHC 2157 (QB) - delivered by the Lord Chief Justice. This case was discussed in previous posts on this blog - the most recent is here.
It was a long running case heard initially in the Magistrates' Court where a District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) found Mr Paul Chambers guilty of the offence under the Communications Act 2003 section 127(1) - sending a "menacing" communication via a public electronic communications network (PECN). Mr Chambers appealed against his conviction to the Crown Court and, this time, was found guilty by a judge sitting with two magistrates. The next step was an appeal - "known as Appeal by Case Stated" - to a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division. Such appeals are concerned with questions of law. This appeal was heard by two judges who failed to agree. A further hearing in the Divisional Court was ordered at which the Lord Chief Justice presided and this second appeal was decided in favour of Mr Chambers. In all, Mr Chambers was subjected to seven court hearings and over 9 hours of court time. During the process he lost two jobs.
The Lord Chief Justice set out the relevant sections of the Communications Act 2003 and also the detailed facts (paragraphs 5 to 18). The legal questions
the court was asked to answer are at paragraph 19. I think it is rather unfortunate that the court did not go on to deal with those legal questions one by one with a view to a more comprehensive clarification of the law. Instead, the court opted to "cut to the chase" and deal just with the key issue necessary to decide the appeal - Was this a menacing message? The judges answered - NO. It followed that Mr Chambers was entitled to have his conviction quashed. At the end of the judgment, the court opted to say a few words about the mental element required to establish the offence.
This is a judgment which requires some thought. I am not at all convinced that the law has been made any clearer and it may even be that further problems have been created. I therefore hope to return to the case in the next few days.
Links of interest:
An interesting post on the case appears at Head of Legal. The author, barrister Carl Gardner, was present at the High Court. The Head of Legal blog also carries an interview with the legal team who represented Mr Chambers at the High Court and also an interview with Mr Chambers' MP ~ Louise Mensch MP (Member for Corby and East Northamptonshire).
In the first of these interviews, solicitor David Allen Green describes the decision to prosecute as shameful and he revealed that he had twice asked the CPS to review their decision that the case was in the public interest. Green considered that for some reason the CPS were determined to take the case all the way.
Louise Mensch MP asked why did the case go this far - a waste of public money. She wished to see the DPP answer for the prosecution to Parliament. However, that would appear to raise questions relating to the independence of the Director when making decisions to prosecute. The Director ought not to be held to account for a decision in any specific individual case. Nevertheless, there is opportunity now for MPs (as well as the public) to influence the next issue of the Code for Crown Prosecutors. A draft of this is open for consultation until 10th October.
CharonQC's blog has a podcast with John Cooper QC who represented Mr Chambers at the second High Court hearing.
The Guardian has given considerable coverage to the case. ... for example, Twitter joke ruling hailed as victory for free speech ... The tweet that bombed: The Twitter joke trial, judges and the internet .... and Twitter Joke trial became confrontation with the judicial establishment
Also see Law Society Gazette - "Twitter Joke trial must not end here"