"We really did see rapid and robust justice with offenders being arrested, charged, put before the courts and sentenced in days."This undoubtedly contributed to taking the momentum out of the disorder - but for the police and public it did raise the question as to why cases take so long to get to court in the normal course of events."
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
It's as simple as that. As soon as anybody gets involved in social media, they immediately turn into hopeless, irretrievable dickheads. They lose about 50 IQ points, and begin delivering the most ill considered and moronic opinions.
I can give you some examples from my current favourite social network, Twitter:
Duncan Bannatyne famously called another user a (sic) "pheadophile" for daring to suggest that smoking in one's car with one's children in it isn't the worst crime known to man. This is an intelligent, successful man. Something's gone wrong in his brain there. Surely?
And what about Tory councillor Gareth Compton who posted:
"Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really."
Honestly. What a wanker.
Or Paul Chambers
"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
Blowing up the airport isn't going to help your flight to leave on time, is it, you dozy twat?
And then there's me. Earlier today, one of my Twitter followers asked me for advice on how to stop his son picking at his skin all the time.
I suggested that his son take up smoking.
I am a dickhead. It's right there in black and white on Twitter if you need the evidence.
But. Has any of the above really done anybody any harm? There might be one or two bruised egos, or offended Twitter friends (sorry Adrian!) - but nobody actually died, right? Nobody got hurt? Sticks and stones, and all that.
We're currently looking at a whole bunch of prosecutions brought against other social media users who posted some really dumb shit on Facebook in response to the riots. In EVERY SINGLE CASE so far, nobody actually got hurt as a result of their stupid posts, and no crimes were committed as a result of those posts. In the majority of cases so far, it's pretty clear that the poster was making a bad joke.
So we're perhaps just looking at another collection of social media wankers who happened to stray into the firing line of a political hot potato.
But the point is: their conversation isn't any different to the content posted by 90% of the social media users out there. As a social media user, we see content like this, and we say to ourselves, "Oh, just another wanker like me".
And now the judicial system is weighing in on social media, and as soon as they've got involved, they've become wankers too. They've lost 50 IQ points, and started talking just as much bollocks as the rest of us.
So the obvious defence to anybody faced with a charge under the Serious Crimes Act or the Communications Act in the coming weeks is:
"Social media turned me into a wanker. And now it's turning you into a wanker as well. Your honour."
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I will depart from cynicism just to say that I've never been more afraid for the health of free expression in Britain. This post is on the long side, but I urge you to read it fully as it explains many of the problems encountered with the application of the Communications Act to broadcast style internet communications. A 21 year old man has been convicted in North Wales of an offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and sentenced to 4 months in prison for a Facebook update that was live for 20 minutes. It has been reported here <http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/08/23/man-jailed-for-four-months-over-facebook-attempt-to-start-riots-in-bangor-91466-29288008/> and here <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-14631184>. I have sent a query to CPS Wales seeking information about the nature of the prosecution.
DPP v Collins sets out a low threshold for both the actus reus and the mens rea. The act is committed so long as a qualifying message is sent via a qualifying public electronic communications network. It does not matter whether the message actually elicits the reaction in a recipient of being regarded as grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. It would not matter in fact that the message is not received by anyone at all, except insofar as it is reported to the relevant authorities. The act of sending is sufficient. For mens rea, the Lords have also defined a strangely low threshold. While the Lords recognise that it is essential to examine any message within the context of a fair and just multi-racial society and to recognize that the meaning of a message can be quite different from its literal content, it is only necessary that the sender at the very least be aware that the message is couched in terms likely to be regarded as grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.So unfortunately while DPP v Collins provides the necessary burden to prove intent, it severely scuppers the defence by removing the requirement that a message is actually received. It sets out the need to look at a message in context, but this is of little help as it has been interpreted very broadly. It requires mens rea, but only in a very narrow sense. Paragraph 11 of Lord Bingham's opinion is where we get into trouble:
"...On the other hand, a culpable state of mind willordinarily be found where a message is couched in terms showing anintention to insult those to whom the message relates or giving rise tothe inference that a risk of doing so must have been recognised by thesender. The same will be true where facts known to the sender of amessage about an intended recipient render the message peculiarlyoffensive to that recipient, or likely to be so, whether or not the messagein fact reaches the recipient...."
Thursday, August 18, 2011
“Within minutes, his friends on Facebook are condemning the words he has posted and telling him in no uncertain terms what a poor opinion they now have of him,” Miss Atkins said.
In response, the boy then posted a second message, saying he didn’t see the point of being pushed around by the police all the time.
The boy then entered into a debate with one friend in particular over the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on August 4 before admitting his comments had been ‘stupid’.
“We are all thankful that his friends were much more sensible than he was and did not react in any way that would lead to further comments in any shape or form,” Miss Atkins told the court.
Lady, are you serious? "Within minutes, his friends... are condemning the words ... and telling him in no uncertain terms what a poor opinion they now have of him." [Translation] Within minutes, his friends are busting his balls for being an "idiot". Anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter regularly knows that this sort of banter happens all the time.
"We are thankful that his friends were much more sensible than he was and did not react in any way that would lead to further comments in any shape or form..."
In police interview, the boy said he had only made the comments to ‘have a laugh’ and didn’t intend anyone to take the actions he had suggested.
David Stewart, in mitigation, said the boy had since realised he had been ‘inordinately foolish’ and recognised what an idiot he had been.
“His friends have a very poor opinion of him and he has a very poor opinion of himself,” Mr Stewart said.
“A lesson has been learnt.”It's as if the defence counsel has never heard of the Twitter Joke Trial. That's because he probably hasn't. Early on in that case the South Yorkshire Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) persuaded the defendant and his lawyer that there was no choice but to enter a guilty plea as Paul Chambers did not deny that he'd sent the offending communication. In other words, the CPS were of the opinion that this was a strict liability offence. This was despite case law from the House of Lords that required mens rea (guilty mind, or intent) to be proven. Had Paul been receiving good legal advice from the beginning, he would have entered a not guilty plea and the CPS would likely have dropped the case, because they felt there was insufficient evidence at that time to prove intent.
I wonder whether Mr Stewart believed this to be a strict liability offence and that the only possible plea was guilty. I wonder whether the West Suffolk CPS believed this as well. This case is an utter disgrace. The rush to early "justice" following the UK Riots has prevented this young man from gaining access to a robust defence. Had some lawyers that I am well acquainted with had the time to become aware of this case before it was heard before the Magistrates, they could have offered free advice that I believe would have drastically improved the outcome of this "trial". I can only hope that the facts I've examined here can form the basis of a successful appeal. This truly is Arsehole Justice in its purest form. Let me end on this tragic note from the Guardian coverage:
The boy's mother told the court: "He is normally a good boy but, like all teenagers, he has his stupid moments."
Speaking to magistrates, the boy added: "I meant it as a joke which is why I wrote LOL at the end."