Law Review: #Twitterjoketrial – Shooting the Rule of Law in the foot?

David Allen Green will do the serious comment on the continuing saga of the #Twitterjoketrial – as he has done since the beginning.  [His blog is here ]

My only observation, having read the Guardian piece early this morning,  is… that the Rule of Law is actually important in our country – and it really does not help public confidence in  our legal system when we have prosecutions based on what was clearly a joke. It is becoming more clear that even the Police and the airport authorities at Robin Hood airport were of that view – not good that some evidence was, apparently, not disclosed at the original trial according to the Guardian report.

Fresh evidence emerged which was not heard at the previous trial that the police noted after Chambers was bailed “there is no evidence at this stage this is anything other than a foolish comment posted on Twitter for only his close friends to see”. But the crown said the conviction should stand and presented evidence that Chambers had sent direct messages to Crazycolours apparently on the terrorist theme.

Please read the Guardian coverage (and David Allen Green will almost certainly comment at some point this weekend on his blog)

This is a mess and apart from causing stress to Paul Chambers it is making our legal system look ridiculous. I can only go on what I see reported in the press, in blogs, and on twitter.  Unfortunately, so can everyone else…and they will marvel, wonder, mock and ridicule.  I suspect there may even be a few *The Law is an Ass*  comments – deservedly.

Why don’t we just go back to throwing defendants into the river to see if they float? - it would be cheaper and just as effective if the conduct of this case is anything to go by. I do hope that I don’t give our cost cutting Ministry of Justice any ideas with my last observation.

The tragedy is that there is so much good in our system… but it is cases like this which are remembered by the public – who are not that well disposed to lawyers or, possibly, our system of justice and law.  I can’t remember who told me that law only works if people want it to work and respect it….. wasn’t a Russian jurist… they used to think law would wither away under the Marxist system…. and as for those Scandinavian realists and positivism…. way ahead of their (and our/) time!

HLA Hart will be spinning in his grave. And… for non lawyers…HLA Hart was not that guy in the TV ad who kept on popping into a bookshop to see if they had his book on fly fishing.

I assume I am allowed to comment on this matter…. given that it is a matter of public record?

10 thoughts on “Law Review: #Twitterjoketrial – Shooting the Rule of Law in the foot?

  1. “…but it is cases like this which are remembered by the public – who are not that well disposed to lawyers or, possibly, our system of justice and law.”

    Spot on!

    The cops can halt any number of burglaries in progress, save suicides from leaping from bridges, rescue kittens from trees, and it’ll all be forgotten the next time some idiot chasing an easy target arrests a tourist for refusing to hand over his camera under the Prevention of Terrorism Act….

  2. I’ll repeat what I commented under Robin Wilton’s (@futureidentity) blog:

    The judge (Bennett) seems to have concluded that given Paul’s apparent expertise of the Twitter environment (something of which Bennett is patently and painfully unfamiliar) and Paul’s awareness of the “times we live in”, that he must have realized the tweet was menacing. The judge therefore (in his infinite wisdom) chooses to ignore Paul’s sworn testimony to the contrary. So the tweet is menacing due to a misconstrued context regardless of whether anyone in authority was threatened by it, and Paul must have been aware that it would be. Very poor. Might as well have saved everybody’s time and decided the case without hearing arguments.

    http://futureidentity.blogspot.com/2010/09/paul-chambers-and-twitterjoketrial.html

  3. Every now and then somebody puts a comments onto JoK’s blog which amounts to the use of legal sophistry in order to justify the original judgement. Quite apart from the technical arguments involved, they provoke me to something approaching fury. As far as I’m aware the judiciary is not merely about applying some narrow and very specific literal reading of law and pronouncements, but it is also about the interpretation, context and intentions of statue law. One even might say the service of justice.

    The whole case is insane, from the original heavy handed police action to the CPS decision and the original judgement. It does nothing but paint the legal and judicial system as a mere state machine that blindly rips up people’s lives without any regard to justice.

    I suspect, however, that what had really just happened is what bureaucracies often do. An initial mistake, in this case by the police, is compounded by further actions such that the stakes are raised. I’m reminded of the even worse Shirley Mckie fingerprint case where a failure of the SCRO to recognise a technical mistake got escalated into an extremely serious prosecution for perjury. Fortunately, justice prevailed when it came to court. However, the indelible impression was left that bureaucracies are often incapable of correcting their own mistakes at an early stage.

    These are by no means the only such examples I can think of. It’s not confined to the legal system of course, but we ultimately need a strong judiciary to correct such errors.

  4. JuliaM – Absolutely indeed.

    Also, CharonQC’s comment that there is good work done in the system is very much appreciated.

    As a police officer I see that ordinary, unspectacular, unpublicised good work being done everyday. I also see sensible, humane discretion shown in the cases where it is still possible.

    I’m as confused and upset about what I read of this trial and conviction as everyone else seems to be, and I hope that the obviously just outcome for Paul, his family – and ultimately all of us – comes soon.

    The injustice demonstrated in this case is deeply damaging to the whole legal system in this country; affecting confidence and cooperation in ways it is impossible to quantify.

  5. Rory – agree. It is extremely irritating when a mess like this affects public perception of the good work done by police, lawyers, magistrates, judges et al in ensuring that criminal law is administered fairly and proportionately.

    As you point out – the press and the public is quick to be critical, but it is these cases which are remembered.

  6. rory – good to have evidence (if any were needed) which reminds us that in the police there are sane sensible individuals who do the job for the common good (horrible shorthand but you know roughly what i mean). and how they get buggered like everyone else when idiocy of this sort is allowed to go on.
    from my limited knowledge of the facts, as more evidence comes to light, it looks like the police are about the only blameless party… probably just as well delroy smellie (still lovin that name months later…) wasn’t involved. or was he???

  7. As was said on one of your previous posts, here is a prosecution brought purposely to make an example of someone. It is an abuse of legal process. Being stupid is not an offence and, if it were, many people would either be or have been in jail.

  8. This post makes an important and much-needed point.

    The legitimacy of substantive law and respect for criminal/civil procedure and law enforcement are crucial – indeed foundational – for any liberal and democratic society.

    What concerns me about this case – and is the prime motivation for me in co-ordinating the defence – is what seems to be a cynical and opportunist decision by the CPS to prosecute Paul Chambers even though the the offence for which he was arrested could not be prosecuted for lack of evidence.

    Section 127 was then plucked out and wrongly used as a “strict liabiltiy” offence even though the House of Lords in Collins held that it required mens rea. Paul was then prosecuted twice by the CPS as if it were a strict liability offence. It was only last week that the CPS finally conceded that it was not strict liability.

    The CPS simply got s.127 wrong from the beginning. It appears that they were so intent on having a prosecution in the public interest that they failed to properly direct themselves as to the law.

    Everything that has come out in this matter to the discredit of the CPS flows from their misconceived decision to use s.127 without a proper understanding of that offence.

    Charon is correct that an example such as this one goes to discredit the CPS and the rule of law more genrally. But I really do not think it is wrong for me to have called them out on this.

    However, I so very much wish I had not needed to.

  9. J of K – It is certainly far from being wrong to call out any iniquity. This prosecution is, as I said above, an absolute abuse of process. As I keep on saying – being stupid, even under stress – is not a crime.

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