Lawcast 218: John Cooper QC on the #Twitterjoketrial judgment

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

Listen to the podcast

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Useful materials

The Judgment in the Twitter Joke Trial Case
Paul Chambers v Director of Public prosecutions [2012] EWHC 2157

David Allen Green’s archive on The Twitter Joke Trial

Carl Gardner on the twitter Joke Trial

The “Twitter joke” trial: why on earth did the DPP pursue this case?

Chambers v DPP: the judgment

“Twitter joke” appeal: interview with Paul Chambers’s legal team

John Cooper QC explains his strategy on his Shadow of the Noose blog

The Twitter Joke Trial: The Punch Line.

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.

CPS report

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

30/07/2012

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.

10 thoughts on “Lawcast 218: John Cooper QC on the #Twitterjoketrial judgment

  1. Mr Chambers’ legal representatives are to be commended for their tenacity. I am delighted that commonsense eventually prevailed. Thank you for this podcast which reveals a great deal of information which has not been readily available to those, like me, who are nowadays mere observers of the system in action. It always made good practical sense to get stuck into the old-fashioned (but important) very basic way of challenging a prosecution – was there an actus reus and, if so, was there mens rea.

    Like Mr Cooper, I would not now be demanding changes to the law. (Who knows, MPs might make it even less liberal)! I would also not be demanding the resignation of the DPP over this one wrong decision but I would like to see an apology/compensation for Mr Chambers.

    The DPP is supposed to be independent of politicians and so he should not be questioned by MPs about individual case decisions. However, MPs as well as the public might consider responding to the CPS consultation on the Code for Crown Prosecutors. There is something in this about prosecutions being brought proportionately.

  2. but how the hell did it take the courts so long to get to where the average vaguely-intelligent human being got in about 3 seconds?

    and why not question the fitness of keir starmer to head the cps? if he is personally responsible for thinking a prosecution like this could ever be vaguely in the public interest he needs to get a job he’s qualified for. there’s a nice burger restaurant at stratford could probably use the help. and you add to this the fact that every week i see cases that nobody with half a brain could believe are in the public interest. when i make reps on this basis to my cps ‘opponent’ (not even a qualified lawyer half the time) they look a bit blank. when i talk about caselaw or the proper interpretation of statute they just mentally leave the building. when i ask ‘have you asked a LAWYER about this?’ they look pathetic and mumble. i’m sure the cps was a pile of crap long before starmer was dpp but hey – he’s in charge of something that just doesn’t work and he not only seems not to know it, he also claims the campaign against domestic violence is working. i can’t work out whether i would have less respect for him if he was simply lying through his teeth or actually believes the line he peddles.

    the latter i think.

  3. @simplywondered – there is a case for a full review into the workings of the CPS which is widely regarded as riddled with problems. (A previous review seemed to merely align CPS areas to Police areas). Parliament could also look at the operation of the CPS but I believe it should stop before demanding explanations about specific case decisions. If MPs are able to do the latter then political independence is lost.

    More on “associated prosecutors” – (who frequently act for CPS in Magistrates’ Courts) may be seen at:

    http://www.cilex.org.uk/ips/ips_home/for_cilex_members/practice_rights/associate_prosecutors.aspx

    Many years ago I recall a law tutor – (who was ancient at the time) – saying forget about raising points of law in magistrates’ courts. It’s necessary sometimes these days but the old guy had a fair point !! Also, I wonder about some of the District Judges who sit there.

  4. Pingback: Lawcast 218: John Cooper QC on the #Twitterjoketrial judgment – Charon QC | Current Awareness

  5. Re the CPS statement. I wonder why it would not have been possible for the CPS to say in the High Court at the outset of the first appeal that they were prepared to concede the point of law and invite the court to determine it in Mr Chambers’ favour? Perhaps some cash might have been saved had they done this. Instead all sorts of human rights arguments were put to the two judges who, in the end, could not agree and hence the second appeal. The second appeal was argued on a good old-fashioned English criminal law basis.

    Hearing case stated appeals by two judges may be “traditional” but if they fail to agree then the State ought to have to pick up the costs.

  6. Obiter J – Thank you for all your observations and comments – as always, adding substance to the content and providing food for thought.

    Interesting area of law. Only this morning the Dorset Police have arrested a tweeter for his tweets to the Olympic diver Tom Daley (and others?) – and, as usual, twitter explodes without thought for due process and contempt of court rules.

  7. oh dog it goes on. the anti-daley tweets are stupid and below the belt. they are also emphatically something i don’t want to see criminalised with the waste of more of our money used to do it. surely the vast wave of support for daley on twitter will be quite sufficient to remedy the malice.

  8. Charon opines:
    “…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….”
    Unfortunately John Cooper (QC) is never one to allow his position as Counsel to stand in the way of self promotion.
    He is usually rather too closely associated with the cause he represents for any opinion to be taken seriously.

  9. Pingback: Postcard from The Staterooms: Last day of Summer…. « Charon QC

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