My response to a commenter on David Allen Green’s TwitterJokeTrial post

The News Statesman website obviously does not like either of the two email addresses I provided – which were both valid, despite the New Statesman saying they were not – perhaps old Labour statist ideals die hard?

Here is the post that I could not post on the New Statesman earlier – I won’t bother trying again as it really irritates me when websites *can’t get their shit together… I almost feel like blowing up!*  (Mea culpa… a very bad pun in the circumstances)

This is David Allen Green’s post and Mr Nandawar’s comment was in the comments section for that post

The Twitter Joke Trial carries on

Swatantra Nandanwar

Are you this person?  Are you promoting yourself and your political aspirations on the back of this important issue?

If you are the politico – it might be useful for your future career in politics to have a good look at the issue and the intelligent comment and legal analysis  on David Allen Green’s Jack of Kent blog and elsewhere.   This is not to say that their views will be proved to be right – but I have always thought – before I use my knee and leg to kick a load of guff into the air, that it is best to have a good look at as much information as I can.

Let us have a look at what you wrote above….

“… thats a Blackmailers Charter! Contingent or not the threat was issued and Paul was rightly done. Any reasonble person or traveller would have assumed that ‘a plot’ might have been afoot. Unfortunately there are a lot of nutters out there, some genuine terrorists, some out for a laugh, and some plain angry who’ve lost it in the heat of the moment. But who knows what care capable of doing if cracked up.”

Actually….. I can’t be bothered to take your comment  seriously …..  because it appears to have been written by a wannabe scriptwriter for  Monty Python et al

…..fortunately, there are a lot of reasonable people ‘out there’ who can tell the difference between a real threat and a lot of nonsense on twitter – although, it has to be said, the judiciary, thus far, seem to agree with you.

Perhaps the High Court will take a different view?  Fortunately, our judges are not swayed by public opinion – a convention often observed, rather than merely adhered to, so it is not unreasonable for us to comment and give our view.

I just happen to think your view is not the right one.  If, however, you are not the politico on the make riding on the back of this… then I wish you well…. and hope that you don’t worry about getting on a plane, train or automobile.

In the meantime – good luck to Paul and best for the legal team.  I think I am still allowed to say things like this on a public forum in post-ironic Britain?

12 thoughts on “My response to a commenter on David Allen Green’s TwitterJokeTrial post

  1. As Doncaster is my local airport I took an early interest in this case. I think it was I who first drew it to your attention on twitter some months ago. I tweeted it because I was and remain outraged by the way Mr. Chambers has been treated. Of course, I wish Mr. Chambers and his legal team every success. Should the appeal fail then I will do my utmost to persuade the legislature to change the law.

    But there are two things that worry me. The first is the abuse bordering on vitriol that has been directed to the magistrate who convicted Mr. Chambers and the Crown Court judge who dismissed his appeal. They were in court and heard the evidence. I wasn’t and neither were most of the people who have disparaged the tribunal. If the judge and her justices were wrong there is a court above them to put them right. But they and their office deserve respect (which is not the same as deference) if the criminal justice system is to do its job. And if the criminal justice system does not do its job the prospect is too awful to contemplate.

    The second thing that worries me is the growing disconnect between opinion on twitter and public opinion generally. I’ve been looking at some of the contributions to the BBC’s “Have your Say” and even the feedback to the Guardian and New Statesman articles and there the support for Mr. Chambers is a good deal less solid than it is in twitter. But this feedback comes form people with computers so I doubt that even that feedback is representative. If you talk to the patrons of my local pub, the lady who cleans my house, the worshippers of the parish church, the shop assistants, garage mechanics and other ordinary folk in Holmfirth, the balance of opinion runs quite the other way. The consensus is that the judges got it just about right in Mr. Chambers’s case.

    The local councillor in Essex to whom you addressed that post is likely to be sensitive to the views of his constituents and he has probably won some credit with them for articulating those views. That is important because if the appeal fails we will need to change the law and it is only Parliament that can do it. If the mailbag tells our MPs that the law should stay as it is then stay it will.

    Public opinion also matters if the appeal succeeds because there could well be an adverse public reaction if Mr. Chambers is seen to have been let off. That could lead to pressure for a change in the law that would criminalize tweets like Mr. Chambers’s.

    We have to educate and persuade those of a different view from us and we have to do that patiently and reasonably – not stridently.

  2. Jane – I’m afraid I disagree with you on parts of your comment.

    I thoroughly disagree with vitriol being directed at anyone – but I would not wish to see a situation arising where one cannot disagree with a judge or judgment in a reasoned and fair way by raising objection.

    It is difficult to see how anyone who didn’t see the original tweet and the context can have a balanced opinion on the issue without seeing ‘the evidence’ for themselves – so I assume all the ‘ordinary folk’ of Holmfirth, as opposed to those who live in Holmfirth who are not ‘ordinary’ et al to whom you refer, were on twitter and saw the tweet and the context or have, subsequently, read widely and intelligently enough to come to a considered view?

    I have, of course, seen the original tweet, as many of the surrounding tweets as I could find, and have read most of the articles on the subject which have been collated. I have also reviewed s.127 and have consulted with various experts in Telecomms and media law who have expressed the view that s.127 may have been misapplied.

    I understand that Mr Swatantra Nandanwar – whether he be the councillor or not – is well known as a commentator on New Statesman who takes contrarian views. Some would characterise such behaviour, if not reasoned, as the behaviour of what is known in the modern parlance, as an ‘internet troll’. Be that as it may.

    I think public opinion is very important. I believe it is still called ‘freedom of speech’. There may well be a disconnect between twitter and other media outlets. Is that actually relevant? Is it important?

    The law in this (and any country) only really works if it does so by being applied sensibly and is acceptable to people generally – dare I say, even, a majority?

    I would hope that our judicial and legal system is mature enough to be able to address cases where the law has not been properly applied and justice has not been done… or here, possibly applied without serious thinking?

    Do you not think it remarkable that neither Police nor airport authorities took the tweet seriously?

    We shall see what the High Court makes of it.

    One final matter… in relation to this point of yours…”Public opinion also matters if the appeal succeeds because there could well be an adverse public reaction if Mr. Chambers is seen to have been let off. That could lead to pressure for a change in the law that would criminalize tweets like Mr. Chambers’s.”

    Do you really think, if there is an outcry that Mr Chambers is let off that Parliament would be wise to change the law to criminalise such tweets?

    God help us if your proposition is widely held and Parliament does just that.

    Finally.. it would have been useful to have seen a judgment on this from the Court… I understand that no judgment is available or if it is, I haven’t seen it and would be delighted to read it to see the judicial reasoning.

  3. I think it is important an extremely concerning that there is a disconnect between the Twitter public opinion and and that of the rest of the country. MaybeTwitter really represents the outlaws of society.

    While I can accept that ordinary people deplore bad behaviour and foul language, it seems surprising that they would be supportive of the use of their taxpayers money and the judicial system to reprimand it. If we wish to live in a cohesive society, then we need to show more compassion and tolerance to the outbursts of others. The judicial system is not the most effective means of changing social behaviour. It is simply not acceptable for the good people of the country to decide to exclude from society those that misbehave. That way, the size of the outlawed population will soon exceed that of the good people.

  4. To express dissent from a judge’s opinion is one thing. To disparage her in the way that I have seen the judge in the Chambers appeal disparaged in the blogs and on twitter is quite another. The former is acceptable. The latter is not.

  5. Jane – I have no hesitation in agreeing with you on the proposition about rudeness and vitriol against the judge.

    I can’t really see what other evidence there could be – save for the documented tweets, and the statements given by Police etc…. but judges are not infallible and if an error of application has been made here it will be corrected on appeal.

    We shall see what happens soon enough……

    I tend to be disparaging of issues rather than individuals in most of my comments…

  6. Quote from above – “If you talk to the patrons of my local pub, the lady who cleans my house, the worshippers of the parish church, the shop assistants, garage mechanics and other ordinary folk in Holmfirth, the balance of opinion runs quite the other way. The consensus is that the judges got it just about right in Mr. Chambers’s case.”

    Their consensus surely relates more to what they think the law should be than what it actually is. Most of the people to whom you refer will not have even read s.127 let alone DPP v Collins etc. They just think that Mr Chambers was stupid. Fair enough but the proper question is whether he committed the offence with which he was charged. Where there is doubt on any point he should be given the benefit of it.

  7. I think I read only one blog which is disparaging about the judge (and that was by somebody actually there). Of course what we have seen is an awful lot of parodying the decision, which is, of course, disrespectful. But then we have surely a long history of parodying authority, and personally I don’t think, within reason, that’s such a bad thing.

    However, it seems to me that there is no dispute about the evidence. It’s well documented and nobody appears to have any disagreement about the facts. Of course what most of us weren’t there to see was the way the case was directed or the persuasiveness of the arguments. However, I’ve never really thought of that bit of theatre as evidence, but then might just be my particular educational background (or prejudices).

    It seems to me that there are a few very key points, some of which are questions for the CPS.

    1) is the act being used for the purpose for which it was intended. We know that it was an extension of a much older act intended to prosecute those deliberately menacing individuals on the phone.

    2) what actually is the public interest for this prosecution? I suppose it might be to stop people being frightened, or avoid disruption. However, apart from the time spent by the police and CPS (arguably due to their over-reaction), then there is no evidence of either happening, or even likely to happen. The give away is that Paul Chambers was arrested under a completely different charge – it rather implies an initial miscalculation.

    3) Was this actually a menacing message? I’ve still not seen anything which is a test in law of what a menacing message would be in this context. We know that not one of the witnesses appears to have testified that they personally took it seriously, or considered it menacing. Certainly none of the direct recipients (of which there were many) appeared to be of that opinion. The judge appears to have resorted to postulating a couple who would have felt menaced had they read it and the judge was also of the opinion that any ordinary person would consider the message menacing. Frankly, given the medium, it was extremely likely that any significant portion of people with access to Twitter are likely to consider it that way at all. If we have a test in law of the nature of a menacing message that relies on a particularly vulnerable couple who are unfamiliar with the medium and might come across this in an contextualised form, then we have a very low test indeed.

    4) then there’s the issue of intention. Everybody appears to agree that Paul Chambers intended this as a joke in a fit of hyperbole. Maybe not a well considered joke, but that isn’t (usually at least) a crime. The conviction appears to be essentially on the basis that Paul Chambers was at least reckless in producing a message which he will have realised was likely to be interpreted as menacing. This is against his testimony that he thought no such thing and certainly none of the direct recipients thought anything else.

    So I have my fingers crossed on this one. Otherwise, we are all at risk of some de-contextualised message being forensically examined for some possible breach of the section. Of course the application of such a law could hardly be more than arbitrarily applied as we don’t have armies of people who, big-brother style, can examine every blog, web page, social network page, tweet or such.

  8. Jane,

    You say you don’t understand the reaction of Twitter, then mention the contradictory opinion of the people in your local pub. Strangely, in my opinion, I feel there is a comparison to be made between the two.

    Imagine you were going to the bar to get some drinks, and one of your friends shouted “I’ll kill her if she doesn’t come back with any peanuts”. Someone else in the bar overhears this, doesn’t really think it’s serious, but feels he should tell the landlord. The landlord then calls the police, not because he’s concerned that someone’s going to get killed in his pub, but that if someone did he’d be in the wrong for not saying anything. Next thing you know, your friend is arrested for making “threats to kill”, loses his job, gets convicted by a court and given a criminal record.

    Now imagine how you, your friends and the rest of the locals in your pub would feel about the fact that an obviously offhand comment has been taken far too literally and destroyed someone’s career and reputation.

    That is pretty much how most people on Twitter feel about Paul’s treatment by the authorities. Especially as it could have easily been any of us who could make a flippant comment that was taken far too seriously and leads to the frankly ludicrous situation we’re in now.

  9. I never said that I don’t understand the reaction on twitter. Quite the opposite. I share it. What I said was that there is a disconnect between the opinion of twitter users and the general public.

  10. My mistake. I’ll confess I may have confused you with one of the theoretical “outsiders”

    So more the reaction of the general public to the reaction on Twitter? I suppose to the outsider it could seem slightly territorial. I also partially agree with them.

    Is the pub analogy still standing?

  11. I didn’t argue with your point. Any fair minded person would be outraged by the way Mr. Chambers has been treated. I hope his appeal succeeds but if it does not the law has to change. That’s why it is important to carry public opinion.

  12. Pingback: On post-ironic Britain and how we live dangerously when we give up our right to be offensive »

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