Careless Whispers: How speech is policed by outdated communications legislation

John Cooper QC, the defence Barrister in the Twitter Joke Trial, has written a foreword to our report on how speech is policed by outdated communications legislation. You can find the full report here.

Foreword by John Cooper QC

Big Brother Watch has been a significant force since 2009 in raising public appreciation of the encroachment upon our freedoms and liberties by those who purport to exercise authority over the citizen and it is with those impressive credentials firmly in place that they have turned their attention to the Social Media.

It is incredible to reflect that Facebook only burst onto the scene in 2004, closely followed by Twitter in 2006. What this means is that the vast majority of legislation now being utilised to police the Social Media was enacted before both Facebook and Twitter were available.

When I addressed the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications in 2014 I argued that we have more than enough law to deal with potential criminal offences on the Social Media, the problem was that they were scattered over legislation placed on the statute book between 1861 to 2003, which led to confusion and inconsistency. There is also a lack of training in many police forces and the CPS as to how this older law applies to a very modern medium which means that application of the law to the facts is misconceived, resulting in the notorious prosecution of Paul Chambers in the so called Twitter Joke Trial where I posited the question to the Lord Chief Justice that if my client was guilty then Sir John Betjeman would be turning in his grave after penning ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’.

This Report does us all a great service in highlighting in clear terms the problems that the present criminal law has with adapting to the fresh and vibrant world of Social Media. It sets into context the urgent need for a rationalisation of existing law to reflect the new mediums at a time when cash strapped Police Forces across the Country are struggling to cope with Social Media related complaints.

Perhaps the most palpable effect of this powerful Report will be to remind all of us that for the law to be respected and trusted, it must be both relevant and above all fit for purpose.

Big Brother Watch have made an important contribution to this debate.

JOHN COOPER QC.