Electronic communication is easy and messages are often sent without proper consideration of who may see them, how they may be interpreted or even used. Once a message is in the public domain you have little control over who will see.
For Paul Chambers what started as a “poor joke, in bad taste” resulted in a conviction, which under the current law relating to record retention would have followed Mr Chambers for the rest of his life.
On 6 January 2010, Paul Chambers tweeted "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!!".
His tweet was seen five days later by an airport duty manager who reported it to the police. Mr Chambers was arrested on 13 January: nobody had taken the threat seriously, confirmed in the police crime report.
However, deciding that the communication was menacing per se in May 2010, Mr Chambers was convicted of sending “a menacing electronic communication” by Doncaster Magistrates’ Court. He was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs. The conviction was upheld on 3 March 2011 by Doncaster Crown Court.
Today the High Court has ruled that under section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003 unless the communication “creates a sense of apprehension or fear in the person who receives or reads it” or “who may reasonably be expected to receive it”, it is “difficult to see how it can sensibly be described as a message of a menacing character”.
Should similar circumstances arise again it will be interesting to see the approach of the police and CPS.