Do We Really Want To Criminalize Bad Jokes?
from the careful-what-you-get dept
"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!!"As we said at the time, it was a really dumb statement, and I have no problem with police checking it out, but once they realized it was just a dumb joke, it seems reasonable to leave the guy alone. However, some more details are now coming to light that make the story even more questionable, and raise some issues that could impact pretty much anyone who makes a bad joke on Twitter, should someone in power want to cause them serious trouble.
Andrew sent over a few more articles about the story, that highlight that the guy wasn't actually charged for making a fake bomb threat. There actually is a law for that... but the authorities didn't charge him with that because they knew that his joke would never actually be seen as a bomb threat. Charging him under that law would require evidence that he intended to make people actually think he was intending to blow the airport up -- but no reasonable person would think that.
Instead, it appears that the police used a little-known part of the UK's Communications Act that outlaws sending a "message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character." Sound broad enough? Yeah. Suddenly, you realize he wasn't charged with making a bomb threat. He was charged with making a bad joke, that someone misinterpreted as being "menacing." The link above to TheLawyer.com goes through all this in great detail, including a pretty scary discussion with the officials who decided which law to charge the guy with, where they basically dance around the issue, even though it's pointed out to them that they're clearly stretching the meaning of that particular law well beyond what it's supposed to cover, while ignoring the actual law concerning bomb threats.
No matter, it appears that the guy has now been officially found guilty and fined £385 plus £600 costs (though, Stephen Fry has offered to pay). The fine isn't huge, but the guy now has a criminal conviction on his record for making a bad joke (not for making a bomb threat). That doesn't seem reasonable no matter how you look at it.