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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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.