It's been a while since I've written here. This at any rate is long overdue. I've been intending for months to write more about the Twitter Joke Trial. This blog site was created after the UK riots in August 2011; however, there are a number of older posts that were ported over from my personal blog. Most of these relate to the aforementioned case and the campaign around it.
Last night in London there was a special meeting of the Westminster Skeptics group devoted to the case of Paul Chambers, which is now popularly known as the Twitter Joke Trial. Having been a campaigner against the charges and the conviction since early on, I was invited to speak at the event. It was as good a meeting as any I've been to and there were lots of discussions afterwards.
I got talking with a couple of people, one of whom was fairly new to the case and was trying to understand how it could have gone so badly wrong. I described the judge at the Crown Court appeal, the "honourable" Jacqueline Davies, who presided over the trial with an imperious and impatient attitude. Someone asked me whether the judge had allowed tweeting in the court room. No, she certainly did not. In fact, when the court reconvened prior to the reading of the judgement, Davies revealed that she was annoyed to have learned about people tweeting details of the trial and issued a stern warning.
It was only last night that I finally put this together, and it made me angry all over again. Davies became annoyed when someone she interacts with (possibly one of the two lay magistrates at her bench) showed her updates on twitter that captured bits and pieces of the trial. She seemed to think that people were tweeting from within the court room as events happened, when in fact people simply wrote about the trial during the recess, as anyone is well within their rights to do. Perhaps some wrote updates after having excused themselves while the court was in session. This is also acceptable.
So poor was her understanding of Twitter that she couldn't get her head around the fact that someone could go outside the court room and write tweets about the trial which could then very quickly find their way onto her computer screen. The tweets were not meant for her, but she got hold of them anyway not long after they were sent and it made her angry. Someone might have instead used a telephone or a text message to communicate details to some third party and those messages would not have found their way to the judge. That would also have been fine of course.
Quite clearly judge Davies was not qualified to hear this case. If she is unable to understand even such a fundamental aspect of real time broadcast communication, she has no hope of understanding the more intricate mechanisms, both physical and psychological, involved in the dispatch and retrieval several days later of Paul's tweet. It is an ironic parallel. Just as a third party at Robin Hood Airport became unnecessarily concerned about a tweet that was not intended for him and of which he did not have the benefit of the full context, so did the judge become unnecessarily concerned about tweets not meant for her which she did not understand. She didn't appreciate how they were sent, when they were sent or why they were sent. To think she had the nerve to suggest that Paul must have realised the risk in what he was doing because he was an experienced user of Twitter!