Let's suppose you were heading off on holiday and then let's suppose that snow had closed the airport and your plans were ruined. You might be vexed and then you might post a message on Twitter that hinted at your frustration. Suppose this Tweet read something like, oh, I don't know, this:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
Well today poor Paul Chambers was found guilty under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending an "indecent, obscene or menacing" message. He was fined £1000 and not has a criminal record. For making a joke. Not a very good joke you may say, and perhaps an ill-advised joke too, but an obvious joke nonetheless.
It's notable that having been arrested for "making a bomb hoax*" (yes, really, even though the "hoax" was not sent to or noticed by the airport until it was brought to their attention) he was then charged and convicted via provisions originally designed to deal with abusive phone calls and stalkers and the like. This change, presumably, was forced upon the CPS by the obvious fact that they could not prove any "intent" on Mr Chambers' part.
If you wanted proof that the Security State has lost its mind then this case is a useful place to start. It seems that at no point during this appalling performance did anyone in the criminal justice system pause to ask if there was anything in the public interest justifying this prosecution. No, a "bomb hoax" had been made and so the wheels of justice must grind on in all their rock-headed stupidity and to hell with anything else, far less something as trifling as common sense.
A sensible police force would have had a quiet word with Mr Chambers and suggested that he think twice before posting material liable to be eagerly misinterpreted by morons and jobsworths. A sensible CPS would have dropped the matter as soon as it reached them. And a sensible magistrate would have thrown the whole damn thing out as soon as possible.
But this case is about more than just poor Mr Chambers. It's an affront, indeed a threat, to everyone who uses Twitter or Social Networking sites or, for that matter, any part of the internet. There are many of us who could doubtless have been prosecuted for sending a message that someone might find "indecent, obscene or menacing". In other words, this kind of case is a threat to liberty for all, not just the unfortunate Mr Chambers.
I was going to say that it's good to be writing about something that isn't related to the election. But actually this is a political matter. The relentless increase in the number of offences for which perfectly decent citizens may be prosecuted has been one of the most depressing aspects of the past dozen years. The police and the CPS (in England) have run amok and lost all leave of their senses.
Reining** them in and changing the culture that produces this kind of absurd prosecution is something that really ought to be a priority for any new government, whatever its hue or makeup.
Because Britain is now a country in which you can be prosecuted for making a joke. And found guilty too. A shameful development.
You can follow the twitter outrage via the hashtag #twitterjoketrial
*Sending bomb hoaxes is reasonable grounds for prosecution and not, I think, really an abridgment of free speech. But it's clear that there was no such intent in this case.