Is our Criminal Justice System a joke?

 I am sure as budding journos you are all well aware of who the man to the left is. If not, I’ll tell you. It is Paul Chambers. Maybe the name rings a bell? This man recently lost his appeal over the ‘threatening’ comment he made over Twitter, and he will have to cough up £3,000 to pay for a statement that he made as a joke. His exact post was:

“Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week…otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky-high!”

The post was only available for 600 of his followers to see, but was found by an airport manager who searched ‘Robin Hood Airport’ and reported the comment to the police. I’m sorry but how dense do you have to be to think that this was not a joke? At first glance you can immediately tell that the trainee accountant was not being serious, but was speaking out of frustration at the recent airport closure. I frequently say things I don’t mean, like “I’ll kill you if you do that again!” or “I’m going to shoot that dog if it doesn’t stop barking”. But I never mean it, it’s just humour and exaggaration to get my emotion across. The British are famous for their wit. Can we not be openly witty anymore?

Judge Jacqueline Davies, ruled that the comment appeared menacing and that anyone seeing the comment would be alarmed, and used the point that the airport staff were concerned enough to report it, so his appeal was lost. She also added that anyone living in this day and age would be aware of the climate of terrorist threats and would be aware of the consequences of making a statement like he did. So does this mean we all have to be extra careful what we say/publish on social media sites? Isn’t Freedom of Speech being violated when we have to be careful how we come across, and are unable to make silly jokes of violence?

I read an interesting blog post by The Heresiarch about the incident, and they take the angle that it is part of the British culture to make cynical jokes and even asks the question is it illegal to be British. They also comment that foreign people, or Canadians may not understand the joke, but they are appalled that judges, police and politicians missed it (as they are British). It is an interesting angle and makes for a good read. 

Not only does Paul Chambers have to pay for his joke, he also lost his job over it. I know at recent Social Media lectures we have been chatting about what are good journalism ethics, I just wondered what everyone thinks about having to be extra careful about what you say now that your are going down the journalism road? Do you think holding back from expressing your true opinions will be difficult, especially when writing an unbiased article? Do you think it takes a part of your personality away? Or do you think it will be an easy ride, and this is exactly what you expected?

Just be interested to hear your views!

Julia Carstairs


10 Responses

  1. It’s ridiculous! One tiny joke practically ruins his life. I think the internet should be more open to typical British humour. How many times have we whispered a bomb joke whilst in an airport? Or maybe that’s just me. It’s a joke and his punishments are not necessary at all.
    Love the article about it too! Makes a good point.

  2. It’s silly that he lost his job when it was clearly not serious! I think the goverment are just trying to make an example out of him to show real terrorists how serious they are about it all. But it just looks ridiculous.

    I have thought about that, yeah! i dont think it’ll be an easy ride; being careful and being impartial etc because there are some matters where you just have to have an individual opinion. And its scary what social media/networking sites can do to people if their opinion isn’t the norm.
    Yeah, good article, joolea.

  3. That is absoutely insane. If this thing of thing happens regularly, I expect to be pulled up a lot in later life.. I refuse to give up sarcasm because don’t have the capacity to see what is clearly a joke; whether it was in good taste or not, which doesn’t even appear to be the issue here.

  4. Interesting blog Julia, I cannot lie.. situations like this make me laugh! And do make me doubt the justice system at times!

  5. Well written Julia. If a comedian had said this joke then I’m guessing it would have been brushed over and forgotten about, not resulting in any court case, and perhaps just an apology from the comedian. Even comedians have to be more careful now though, we all do, even if we are publishing something in jest. Someone, somewhere, will be offended or insulted by what you say, it’s just whether their complaint is large enough to cause a degree of concern that means the law has to interfere.
    Paul will have to add up his options, subtract himself from the public eye for a bit and calculate what he is going to do next.

  6. £3,000 for saying something distasteful?! Jeez if the same rules applied to everyone then Prince Phillip would be bankrupt for starters. Jeremy Clarkson wouldn’t be very well off either.
    I think though, if you are going to say something of this nature in such a public way then you do have to consider that not everyone will see the funny side. Everyone is different and if people don’t know him personally then it would make sense that some would take it the wrong way and not know he was joking. Prosecuting him to this level is over the top though.
    Since James mentioned a few weeks ago that everything we put on the internet stays there, I have considered the consequences of that. I’ve never been one for airing any personal gripes, swearing or making potentially offensive jokes on social networking sites as I’d rather do these kind of things with my friends who know me and know exactly how to take me. But I would definitely not do it now knowing that it could affect my reputation in the future.
    That probably does mean that freedom of speech isn’t really that free or that a networking site isn’t a place that we can just kick-back and have an ‘anything goes’ attitude. Great blog Julia. xxx

  7. Thanks for all your lovely comments everyone!

    I’m glad you all find it as insane as I do! Emma you made a good point about using Paul as an example to real terrorists 🙂 But don’t you think that the real terrorists will be laughing, as they haven’t been caught but this innocent frustrated guy has!

  8. What I’m afraid of is, in our future jobs, are people going to find something we post on twitter or facebook as a joke years beforehand, and are we too are going to get the sack. The world seems to be getting a tad too highly strung for my liking.

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