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Twitter ‘Bomb Threat’ Trial Tests Communication Act

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The trial of Paul Chambers has drawn plenty of attention from politicians, the media and celebrity observers. Although much of the focus has been on the widely perceived absurdity of the case, it does raise some interesting questions about the law under which it was brought. Chambers was prosecuted under section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003; legislation which predates the Twitter service launched in 2006.

A Law Out of Touch?

Following Chambers' conviction for his 'menacing' tweet and its subsequent overturn, there is a perception that legislators, lawyers and the courts are simply failing to adequately deal with legal issues borne out of technological change.

Although not a popular response, many lawyers argue that the legal system is actually working as it is supposed to do - legislators legislate and the courts develop the law as lawyers bring test cases before them. Instant justice has rarely been a feature of English law.

The Communications Act 2003

The relevant section 127(1) sets out the following prohibition on sending:

"by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character"

One of the central reasons for the Act was to regulate the provision of electronic communication networks and services.


At the trial of Paul Chambers, or #twitterjoketrial as it became known on Twitter, the prosecution focused on 'menacing character' in s127. The wider facts are well known; the content of the offending tweet said:

"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s--- together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

Initially Chambers was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010. Subsequently, a Crown Court judge dismissed his appeal on the grounds that the message was "clearly menacing". Finally on 27 June Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge quashed the conviction stating:

"We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the Crown Court that this 'tweet' constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed,"


To many observers and the public in general it appears that there was little merit in pursuing this case and it may indeed be that the CPS has serious questions to answer. However, for future Twitter comedians it does provide some clarity - a message posted on communication networks such as Twitter must have menacing intention and not just menacing character to constitute an offence.

Although it has been a personally damaging episode for Mr Chambers and a reputationally damaging episode for the law, the final conclusion indicates that the system has worked.

If you have any questions about this case or the law relating to electronic communications Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. If you need advice or would like more information please contact James Crighton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.