You may remember Paul Chambers. He’s the poor sod tried and convicted for tweeting:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!"
The context? He was trying to visit his girlfriend in Northern Ireland. It was January. There was snow. Nottingham airport was closed. This was frustrating. So he tweeted this – evidently ill-advised – joke. And was arrested under the terms of the Terrorist Act and subsequently prosecuted – and shamefully, convicted – under Section 127 of the Communications Act for sending an "indecent, obscene or menacing"message.
His girlfriend relates the story here and Jack of Kent, who has been at the heroic forefront of the effort to correct this manifest injustice (which has cost Chambers not one, but two jobs) explains why the case matters here.
Paul Chambers’ appeal is being heard in Doncaster today. It matters that he wins. As I wrote in May:
If you wanted proof that the Security State has lost its mind then this case is a useful place to start. It seems that at no point during this appalling performance did anyone in the criminal justice system pause to ask if there was anything in the public interest justifying this prosecution. No, a "bomb hoax" had been made and so the wheels of justice must grind on in all their rock-headed stupidity and to hell with anything else, far less something as trifling as common sense.
A sensible police force would have had a quiet word with Mr Chambers and suggested that he think twice before posting material liable to be eagerly misinterpreted by morons and jobsworths. A sensible CPS would have dropped the matter as soon as it reached them. And a sensible magistrate would have thrown the whole damn thing out as soon as possible.
But this case is about more than just poor Mr Chambers. It’s an affront, indeed a threat, to everyone who uses Twitter or Social Networking sites or, for that matter, any part of the internet. There are many of us who could doubtless have been prosecuted for sending a message that someone might find "indecent, obscene or menacing". In other words, this kind of case is a threat to liberty for all, not just the unfortunate Mr Chambers.
I was going to say that it’s good to be writing about something that isn’t related to the election. But actually this is a political matter. The relentless increase in the number of offences for which perfectly decent citizens may be prosecuted has been one of the most depressing aspects of the past dozen years. The police and the CPS (in England) have run amok and lost all leave of their senses.
Reining them in and changing the culture that produces this kind of absurd prosecution is something that really ought to be a priority for any new government, whatever its hue or makeup.
Because Britain is now a country in which you can be prosecuted for making a joke. And found guilty too. A shameful development.
You can follow the appeal and get the latest news on twitter by searching for the hashtag #twitterjoketrial