Twitter joke trial "a steamroller to crack a very small nut"
Padraig Reidy:Twitter joke trial "a steamroller to crack a very small nut"
08 Feb 12

The “twitter joke trial” reached the appeal court today, with the lawyer for accountant Paul Chambers arguing that his conviction for sending a “menacing” tweet was “a steamroller to crack a very small nut”.

Chambers, 28, is appealing his conviction for sending a joke tweet in early 2010 claiming that he would blow Robin Hood airport “sky high” if his planned trip to Northern Ireland to visit his now-fiancee was affected by weather conditions.

Ben Emmerson QC, acting for Chambers, said that Chambers’s conviction did not make sense either as punishment or deterrent.

Emmerson told the court “A message intended as a joke, in a context where there is no public order threat where those who read it did not see it as a credible threat should not be an offence.”

Robert Smith QC, acting for the Crown Prosecution Service, said that the tweet had not been seen as a joke by airport staff.

He added that the message contained no clue of the circumstances leading to the “menacing” tweet, and that the airport and police could not have known it was a joke until Chambers had been arrested and questioned.

The CPS argued that despite the fact that Chambers was being punished for being foolish, it was nonetheless important that there should be a deterrent to the sending of potentially threatening messages.

The appeal was heard before a capacity audience at the Royal Courts of Justice, including Father Ted and Ladykillers writer Graham Linehan (who has written about the case for Index) and “Pub Landlord” comic Al Murray.

A judgment is expected before Easter.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.