Twitter joke man finally cleared

After a legal battle lasting more than two years, the British man convicted for a joking comment on Twitter has had his conviction quashed.

We’ve previously covered various events in the case of Paul Chambers, so here’s a quick recap:

In January 2010 he heard that ongoing bad weather might delay his flight and tweeted: “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!!” An airport official spotted the tweet and Chambers was arrested a week later.

In May 2010 he was convicted of breaching the Communications Act 2003 for sending an electronic message that was of a “menacing character.” Chambers pleaded guilty, having been wrongly advised that intent was illegally irrelevant for this offense. He was fined a total of just under £1,000 (approx $US1,600) including costs and later lost his job.

In November 2010 a judge rejected an appeal made on the basis of fact, ruling the tweet was “obviously menacing” and thus an intentional breach of the law.

In February 2012, a higher court heard an appeal made on the basis of two points of law: whether the judge had fairly interpreted the law when determining if the message was menacing, and how the law should take effect with social media. After the two judges assigned to the case were split in their verdict, the case was sent to a fresh appeal with a panel of three judges.

Today that panel formally overturned the conviction, ruling that the law’s reference to a “menacing” tweet should be interpreted with much more weight given to context:

If the person or persons who receive or read [the message] or may reasonably be expected to receive, or read it, would brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste, or empty bombastic or ridiculous banter, then it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character…

We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the crown court that this ‘tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it.

(The second sentence effectively means that the only legally correct verdict in the original case should have been an acquittal, rather than the case being a matter of judgment.)

The Crown Prosecution Service, the British equivalent of a district attorney’s office, says it accepts the verdict and will not launch its own appeal. That means the case is officially over.