Lawcast 218: John Cooper QC on the #Twitterjoketrial judgment
The judgment in the #twitterJoketrial is an important one for Paul Chambers who has been acquitted and can now get on with his life without the stain of criminal conviction hanging over his head.
Not given to hyperbole or persuaded by political grandstanding – I am interested in the hard law behind the judgment, why the decision is so important for ‘freedom of speech’, whether the DPP was misconceived in bringing the prosecution as solicitor David Allen Green has stated (in fact he went further and described it as ‘disgraceful’ in an interview with Head of Legal blogger Carl Gardner), and whether the judgment really clarifies the law for users of twitter.
I am also interested in the change in legal thinking throughout the appeals – the arguments advanced by Ben Emmerson QC not finding sufficient favour at an earlier stage in the appeal process. John Cooper QC was brought in for the final appeal before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.
The role of counsel in very public cases of this nature often goes unnoticed. Counsel tend not to stand on the steps of the court to make televised announcements to the public – so for that reason and to get ‘counsel’s opinion’ on the matter I am talking to John Cooper QC who led the legal team before the chief justice Lord Judge.
I am not that impressed with Louise Mensch MP’s comments to Carl Gardner that the DPP should account to MPs who now appear to want to tell him that he got the decision wrong. I am, however, impressed by Louise Mensch’s support for Paul Chambers’ cause. Her contribution is and was valued. Louise Mensch was the victim of some very nasty personal threats on twitter and gave her support to Paul’s cause freely not simply because he is now her constituent. Political sniping and teasing Louise Mensch on twitter goes with the territory of being an MP (and she is more than able to deal with that!) – personal threats to her or her family do not. On the question of the DPP being called before the Select Committee – I liked Carl Gardner’s take in response to Mensch’s political point…and I quote “The DPP’s also entitled to tell them (the MPs) that he makes his own mistakes – not those politicians tell him to make.”
This is a landmark decision for human rights, freedom of expression and common sense. No-one will ever again, John Cooper QC says, have to go through what Paul Chambers went through as a result of a joke on twitter
The Judgment in the Twitter Joke Trial Case
Paul Chambers v Director of Public prosecutions  EWHC 2157
Carl Gardner on the twitter Joke Trial
John Cooper QC explains his strategy on his Shadow of the Noose blog
Statement from the CPS
The statement below from the CPS has now been taken down from the CPS website pending review – I am reliably informed – Charon/(Mike)
Paul Chambers case
Some reports in recent days have been misleading about the decision making process in the Paul Chambers case.
The DPP was not the decision maker in this case, nor did he ‘overrule his subordinates’. At one stage, consideration was given to conceding the appeal, but as a matter of law this was not possible because the key finding of fact in the case was a finding of the Crown Court, which only the High Court could overturn.
I understand that a ‘clarification’ of the CPS is due. The CPS statement certainly does not reflect informed commentary last Friday – so it will be interesting to see which reports were ‘misleading’.
Clarification statement from the CPS
Clarification on decision making in Paul Chambers case
The DPP was not the reviewing lawyer in the case of Paul Chambers, but in June he did instruct the team managing it to consider conceding the appeal. This was considered and progressed, however, at a later stage the DPP was advised that, as a matter of law, conceding the appeal would not be possible. This is because it was not possible because the key finding of fact in the case was a finding of the Crown Court, which only the High Court could overturn. The DPP accepted that advice and reluctantly agreed that the appeal had to proceed.