Sat, 15 May 2010

In 'the times in which we live' humour is criminal

Paul Chambers has been convicted for writing a silly tongue-in-cheek message, a joke, on his Twitter feed. 'The message was “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” This was in response to a news feed that he had just received that the airport was closed due to the weather conditions prevailing at that time.' He had booked a flight for the following week to meet his partner.

He was prosecuted under section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003 for sending "by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character". District Judge Jonathan Bennett after a hearing at Doncaster Magistrates Court, found that the message was 'was of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live.'

Paul Chambers now has a criminal conviction, lost his job, and was ordered to pay a £385 fine, a £15 victims surcharge (which victim?) and £600 costs, all for writing a joke - however poor you may find it - because of the times in which we live humour is too dangerous a weapon. That means that an email, posting a blog post, comment to an article, etc. construed - in the times in which we live - to be menacing (or grossly offensive, indecent or obscene) can be enough to get a criminal record. The times in which we live are also justification to stop and search anyone without reasonable suspicion, use secret evidence or national security reason to convict individuals without them knowing why, keeping the DNA of innocents, etc.

Paul Chambers wrote about what happened to him in the Guardian: My tweet was silly, but the police reaction was absurd. His partner wrote a guest post on Jack of Kent about her experience: Paul Chambers: Guest Post by CrazyColours.

Legal blogger Jack of Kent has written extensive analysis of worrying aspects of this case, in particular:

You can donate to Paul's legal and appeal fund at the Twitter Joke Trial Fund. He has 21 days to decide whether to appeal.

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