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Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157

Sending a message of a menacing character by means of public electronic communications on “Twitter.”

Facts

A 26-year-old man learned that an airport from which he was due to travel was closed due to heavy snow-fall. He responded on Twitter by tweeting: “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!” Five days later, the duty manager of the airport read the tweet and communicated it to the police.

Issue

The defendant was charged for sending a public electronic communications message of a “menacing character,” contrary to s127(a) of the Communications Act 2003. Thequestions arose as to (1) whether the ‘tweet’ constituted a message for the purposes of s 127(a), and (2) whether the actus reus and mens rea elements of sending a message of a “menacing character” were fulfilled.

Held

A post on “Twitter” constitutes “a message” sent by a public electronic communications network under s127(a) of the Communications Act 2003, despite the fact that Twitter is privately-owned and the message was termed “content” on the website. Yet, the actus reus of the offence was unfulfilled as, on an objective assessment, the “tweet” was not of a menacing character nor could an inference be drawn that it represented a menace in the context and means by which it was sent. The Court considered the language to be unserious and that reasonable members of the public chose to dismiss it as not threatening. The Court also held that the defendant lacked the requisite mens rea as he “intended the message as a joke, even if a poor joke in bad taste” (para [38]), thus the intention to send a message of a menacing character is not established.


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