Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Edwina Currie will not get done the way Paul Chambers did

Just a quick one. I still owe an account of my visit to the High Court Wednesday for the #TwitterJokeTrial case. It has come to light that former Health Minister Edwina Currie has joined Twitter. Ms. Currie has been outspoken in her belief that Paul Chambers was rightly convicted of the offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. She had a blazing row with comedian Rufus Hound on BBC Radio 5 Live in 2011 in which she blazingly displayed her ignorance of the case and a great many other things.

The latest story is that Paul Chambers has effectively pwned her over a recent tweet in which she suggested that she would shoot tax exiles. She appears not to appreciate that this message has the potential to cause menace by the CPS interpretation. This is of course a silly suggestion, but it's no more silly than the suggestion that Paul's tweet had the potential to create any real fear. But Edwina Currie needn't worry about being done the same way as Paul, just as Tory councillor Gareth Compton needn't have worried over his remarks about stoning Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death. The reason is that there is not a feeling among security officials that the public are constantly in fear of people being stoned to death or executed by firing squad.

The CPS seem to believe that when there is a suggestion of terrorism in relation to air travel, all objectivity goes out the window while the public are busy panicking. The lower courts in R v Chambers more or less accepted this premise. Speaking for myself, this is not true. I can objectively tell a joke from a threat even when the joke suggests blowing up an airport. I think the same goes for the ordinary person, or the "man on the Clapham omnibus".

Police and prosecutors are however extremely afraid of getting it wrong. If something were dismissed as a joke but later turned out to have been a warning of things to come, we the public would blame the authorities for failing to act. We would do this even though we ought to know that it is impossible to prevent all acts of terrorism no matter how much money and resources are devoted to that. If the worst were to happen, the authorities would then demand greater powers to combat terrorism, which we would unfortunately feel inclined to give them. I call this the hysterical feedback loop.

We must break this destructive cycle and let those in control know that we're not all constantly in fear of terrorism to the point where we must take leave of our senses. If we can do this then there's a good chance of preventing silly things like the #TwitterJokeTrial from happening in the future.


  1. Silly suggestion? Even though in the same order of magnitude of ridiculousness, it might even be slightly more credible than @pauljchambers' tweet - she has the skills:

  2. You can't help thinking that the public profile of the individuals concerned is more relevant than the context, or what people are most frightened of.

    Paul was an anonymous individual with no public profile (not any more of course!), so the expectation was that he could be punished without causing any stir.

  3. I wonder is there much public hysteria about people idly hoping a load of people at the council will die? I doubt it!

  4. @Peter English: Precisely. We're seeing that in sharp relief now. One rule for young accountants, another for the great and the good.

  5. The high profile vs private individual aspect certainly plays a part, but I don't think it's the most interesting part. It's perceptions about terrorism and what are acceptable lengths to go to in order to prevent it that draws the line here.