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.)

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496