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 future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation