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Twitter Bomb Joker Case Hits Stalemate

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Two High Court judges have been unable to reach a decision in Paul Chambers’ Twitter appeal, which will move to a three-judge hearing

Paul Chambers, the Twitter user fined after he cracked a joke about destroying South Yorkshire’s Robin Hood Airport, is to have his case heard yet again following a highly unusual High Court stalemate.

In January 2010, when the airport was closed due to heavy snow, Chambers joked to his girlfriend via Twitter that he would blow the airport up.

Twitter ‘threat’

“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!!” Chambers tweeted at the time.

The message was circulated to Chambers’ roughly 600 followers, ultimately coming to the notice of airport staff, who took it seriously.

In May 2010 Doncaster Magistrates’ Court convicted Chambers of “sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” contrary to the Digital Communications Act 2003. He was ordered to pay £385 in fines and £600 in legal costs, and lost his job as an accountant.

Backed by celebrity campaigners including Stephen Fry and comedian Al Murray, Chambers, who now lives in Northern Ireland, appealed the ruling. He lost an appeal in Doncaster Crown Court in November 2011 and received a second fine.

On 8 February his appeal was heard by a two-judge divisional court of the High Court, but after deliberations Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Irwin were unable to reach a decision.

New hearing

A new hearing has therefore been ordered before three judges, with a date yet to be set. Observers have noted that a split divisional court is highly unusual. As the first case to test what counts as “menace” under the 2003 communications law, however, the outcome is likely to have wide-ranging legal ramifications.

Murray, known for his character The Pub Landlord, said the stalemate had taken Chambers’ supporters by surprise.

“We weren’t expecting to be having to fundraiser again,” he tweeted. “Law = bottomless pit.”

Murray added that the ongoing case is “trampling horribly on [Chambers’] human rights”.

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