A brief guide to the Twitter Joke Trial

What to watch out for in the Paul Chambers case today.

Doncaster Crown Court will today hear the appeal of Paul Chambers against his conviction under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending a menacing message over a public telecommunications system.

The background to this unfortunate case -- and why it matters so much to the public -- is set out both here and here. Among those outraged by this misconceived and illiberal prosecution are commentators as various as Nick Cohen and Graham Linehan.

There is no need to add to this scorn and derision for the Crown Prosecution Service. This blog post serves a different purpose: it offers a very brief guide for those following the case today.

The appeal is a full rehearing of the case. Although Paul is the appellant, the prosecution will still go first.

The prosecution then has to establish three things. First, whether Paul's tweet was a message sent over a public telecommuniations system. Second, that the tweet was itself menacing. And third, that Paul sent it with the intention of sending a menacing communication.

On the last point, it would be enough for the prosecution to show that he was aware of the effect it could have, rather than that it was his only deliberate purpose.

The requirements to show that the tweet was menacing and that Paul had the intention (or awareness) that he was sending a menacing communication together have to be proved by the prosecution to the "criminal standard" -- that is, beyond reasonable doubt.

Once the prosecution has set out its case, it falls to Paul's side to make his defence. Acting for Paul is the renowned criminal defence barrister Stephen Ferguson.

It is expected that Paul will be called to give evidence. It may also be that others may be required to give oral evidence.

But there is little dispute over fact, and so no great need for cross-examination; indeed, most of the facts are agreed. The real question for the court is whether the facts actually add up to an offence.

Hearing the case will be a professional judge accompanied by two justices of the peace. As this is a full appeal, the sentence for Paul could theoretically be increased. The maximum sentence for a Section 127 offence is six months' imprisonment.

That said, it would appear unlikely that the sentence will be varied. Rather, the key issue appears to be whether Paul should have been convicted or not.

The verdict should be given later today. It is rare for a criminal court to reserve judgment on such matters, though possible. If the appeal is allowed, then Paul can leave the court with vindication and without a criminal record. If he loses, however, it is open for him to appeal on points of law to the high court, and then to the Court of Appeal.

Beyond that would perhaps be the Supreme Court (the former House of Lords) and the European Court of Human Rights. However, if the result today is bad, then it may be that Paul would just want to draw a line under the whole matter. No one would blame him if he did.

By the end of this afternoon we should know whether the emphatic and lively campaign to reverse the conviction has succeeded, or whether it has suffered a severe setback. As the person co-ordinating the defence, I am, unsurprisingly, a little apprehensive. But those nerves are as nothing in comparison with the stress that Paul and his partner are under.

Paul is dealing with this whole matter with impressive character. He now has a criminal record, and has lost two jobs, for a tweet that was at worst ill-advised. He is doing incredibly well in the circumstances.

For the CPS to regard that tweet as menacing and intended to be so has implications for any person blogging or emailing. There, but for the grace of a god, go most of us.

Let us see if the case can be closed down today, or whether we have to take it to a higher court. Whatever the outcome, Paul Chambers deseves our warmest regards and support.

David Allen Green is providing pro bono assistance to Paul Chambers. He is head of media at City law firm Preiskel & Co and blogs on legal and policy matters for the New Statesman.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.