In spite of what I say in this letter, I strongly suspect (though I pretend no legal expertise) that the real problem is not the 2003 Communications Act itself, but the perverse interpretation of that Act by the CPS and the lower courts. It will, however, take a huge amount of time and money to get this matter before a high-court judge. In the meantime I think we should press our MPs to clarify the law to prevent it being mis-used in this way.
NB It is always better if you write to your MP using your own words rather than someone else’s, but please all feel free to use whatever you like from the example I provide below - I assert no copyright!
Please be polite and avoid making personal attacks on any of individuals involved!
Dear Ms/Mr/Dr MP
I write to express my grave concern at certain provisions of the Communications Act 2003.
As you may be aware, a trainee accountant called Paul Chambers was successfully prosecuted in May 2010 for “sending a menacing message”. His conviction was upheld at appeal; the High Court Judges at his most recent appeal were unable to agree on their interpretation of the law; and Mr Chambers faces a further appeal in the High Court at the end of June this year (2012).
Paul Chambers’s “crime” was to vent his exasperation at a travel delay by making a (perhaps somewhat ill-judged and tasteless) joke about blowing up a local airport on the “microblogging” site known as “Twitter” – much as our former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman vented his exasperation with modern architecture and town-planning by calling for the bombing of Slough.
What is worrying about the law here is that:
If Mr Chambers really had sent a menacing message to an airport designed to make them fear he intended violence he would have been, quite rightly, charged under the Criminal Law Act 1977.
- there was clearly never any intention by the author of the offending joke to menace anyone;
- no message was ever sent to the airport or anyone connected with that airport; and
- nobody who read the joke – Paul Chambers’s “followers” on Twitter (at whom the joke was directed), the staff at the airport who found the “tweet” (by searching on the internet for mentions of their airport), or the police (to whom the tweet was passed on) – felt menaced.
Instead, the CPS decided to prosecute using the 2003 Communications Act and the court decided that a tweet can be a menacing message under Clause 127 of that Act regardless of whether the person writing the tweet intended menace or anyone actually reading it felt menaced.
This is absurd.
There are, literally, trillions of passages of text on social networking sites and on the internet in general that could, if taken completely out of context, conceivably be found menacing by somebody somewhere. It seems that the 2003 Communications Act puts anyone who publishes anything on the internet at risk of criminal prosecution if any of his or her words (stripped of their original setting) could be misinterpreted as threatening in some fashion.
This does not only impact private individuals like Paul Chambers, commercial users of the internet are obviously impacted too. If we are all forced, when publishing things on the internet, to avoid any form of hyperbole or metaphor or figure of speech that could, if taken literally in some imaginary context, imply “menace”, we are clearly an intolerable situation.
The 2003 Communications Act obviously needs to be amended as soon as possible. I hope you and your colleagues in parliament will give this matter your urgent attention.