Twitter Joke Trial: Appeal Judgment Sees the Joke

July 26, 2012

The Court of Appeal gave judgment on 27 July in Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157 – the much publicised ‘Twitter joke’ case. The appeal against conviction was allowed on the basis that this ‘tweet’ did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character. The full judgment can be downloaded from the panel opposite or accessed here.

Lord Judge LCJ gave the judgment of the Court. He did not deal with each aspect of the wide-ranging questions posed by the Crown Court for decision but did agree with the Crown Court judge’s analysis that a tweet was indeed a message capable of supporting a charge under the Act. However, he was clearly impatient with the support given by the magistrates and the Crown Court to the view that the message was menacing:

‘if the person or persons who receive or read [a message], or may reasonably be expected to receive, or read it, would brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste, or empty bombastic or ridiculous banter, then it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character. In short, a message which does not create fear or apprehension in those to whom it is communicated, or who may reasonably expected to see it, falls outside this provision, for the very simple reason that the message lacks menace.’ 

He went on to emphasise that, while the offence under s. 127 was not one requiring proof of specific intent,’ the mental element of the offence is directed exclusively to the state of the mind of the offender, and that if he may have intended the message as a joke, even if a poor joke in bad taste, it is unlikely that the mens rea required before conviction for the offence of sending a message of a menacing character will be established’.