Crap! Judge Jacqueline Davies has made a preposterous legal ruling. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise…
Well, I suppose I’d better not finish that sentence. At least, not with anything more serious than “I’ll write an angry letter to a local newspaper and consider lodging some sort of official complaint”.
You may need some context if you don’t know what’s going on. In January, a guy called Paul Chambers vented some frustration on Twitter by posting the following, perhaps rather injudicious tweet:
Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!
The message eventually found its way to the airport security staff, and from there to the Crown Prosecution Service. At no point, as far as I can tell, did anybody actually feel threatened by the message, or consider that it might constitute a forecast of genuine domestic terrorism.
Because honestly, who would do that? He responded to the irritating and inconvenient cancellation of a flight he was going to catch to meet a girl, by posting the above message to his followers on Twitter. Is anyone really interpreting this tweet as being Phase One of a sinister plot to actually plant explosives in an airport and set off a massive detonation, as retribution for this annoyance? How is it possible to see this as anything other than an expression of comically impotent exasperation?
Nobody was ever in any danger as a result of the message. Nobody was delayed or inconvenienced, since the airport just got on with things as normal and deemed it no credible threat when it was brought to their attention. At worst, the guy deserved a caution, and a suggestion that he be more careful about such flippant references to terrorism in future, in case another such joke be taken seriously someday.
He was arrested for a “bomb hoax” offence, then charged and convicted under a different law regarding public communications of an “indecent, obscene or menacing” character. He was fined £1000, faces larger legal costs, and has just had his appeal turned down.
This has made a lot of people very unhappy and been widely regarded as a bad move.
David Allen Green has been acting for Paul Chambers since shortly after he heard about the case, and describes the background here and here. He also published a guest post by Paul’s partner, who blogs as CrazyColours, and who he was planning to fly over to meet in the flight referred to.
Martin Robbins updates us on the ludicrous War on Irony.
Heresy Corner posted about this on Thursday, after the appeal was turned down. I was initially wary of his conclusion that it is now “illegal to talk in your native idiom”, but now I’m honestly not so sure. That the message is “an instantly recognisable joke” seems obvious. Some people, of course, will fail to get it. But those are not people we should feel obliged to pander to. We don’t need to arrest everybody who says something that those humourless people find threatening, just like we don’t need to censor every comedian who wants to use a rude word so as to placate the screeching “won’t somebody think of the children” crowd.
David Mitchell wrote for The Observer about this after the conviction.
Mark Phillips has explained the linguistic structure of the joke, and how it clearly casts Paul Chambers in the role of beleaguered underdog with humourous intent.
Matt Flaherty has written a wonderful open letter to Judge Jacqueline Davies, which is slightly scary in revealing just how flawed and dangerous the reasoning behind this decision really was.
A fund supporting Paul Chambers as he continues his legal battle and/or normal life has been set up.
And, of course, the Twitterverse has not been impressed by this week’s decision.
Over the course of yesterday, many thousands of people used the #IAmSpartacus hashtag to tweet an exact duplicate “threat” against Robin Hood airport, myself included. Nothing could more solidly make the point that such a thing can be publicly declared without being remotely menacing.
Nobody sane could possibly conclude, from reading these tweets, that thousands of conspirators are simultaneously announcing an evil terror plot. We’re clearly doing it for a joke, or to express our frustration, or to make some sort of point.
The content (apart from the hashtag) in Paul Chambers’s original tweet was exactly the same. I submit that the only reasonable interpretation of his tweet is also identical. It was a joke, or to express his frustration, or to make some sort of point.
After joining in with this, I then spent the next hour or so trying to think of Monty Python references to go with the obvious follow-on to the #IAmSpartacus hashtag, namely: #ImBrianAndSosMyWife. “What have the Crown Prosecution Service ever done for us?” and so forth. Nobody paid much attention.
And that’s more or less the current state of play. I’m actually on my way into London now to watch Brendon Burns tell jokes which will almost certainly be far more offensive, threatening, and scandalous than anything anyone’s got into trouble on Twitter for. Sleep tight.