The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the body responsible for public prosecutions in England and Wales, has opted not to prosecute a man who sent a homophobic tweet regarding Olympic divers Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield.
Keir Starmer QC, the CPS director of public prosecutions, called Daniel Thomas’s tweet “misguided” and “naive.” However, after taking into account the attempt at humor, the speed with which Thomas deleted the message, and the remorse Thomas showed, the CPS opted not to pursue a prosecution.
Under the Communications Act 2003, sending a “grossly offensive” message via a “public electronic communications network” (which Twitter is deemed as for the purposes of this law) is a criminal offence. It is the same law used to convict student Liam Stacey after racist remarks directed at a soccer player, after which he was handed a prison sentence.
Starmer wrote that the issue facing the CPS in Thomas’s case was whether his tweet “is so grossly offensive as to be criminal and, if so, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.”
In making the decision, the CPS looked at the “highly relevant” context and circumstances surrounding the tweet, and cited a previous case in which it was determined that free speech extends to expressing opinions or stating things which “offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.”
Thomas, a 28-year-old semi-professional soccer player, did not intend for the late-July tweet to be seen by Daley or Waterford (who only became aware of it due to media coverage and did not think a prosecution was necessary), and he was suspended by his team. These were both factors in the decision.
The case provides some compelling insights into how the CPS is approaching incidents involving Twitter and other social media outlets.
In perhaps the most notorious case surrounding the Communications Act and an intended humorous remark on Twitter, Paul Chambers fought a legal battle spanning two-and-a-half years before being able to convince the legal system that his joke about blowing up an airport out of frustration was not “grossly offensive.”
Starmer added that he intends to issue guidelines for prosecutors in social media cases, concluding his statement by saying “In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.”
For now, it appears that Brits can feel a little safer when making jokes that not everyone may appreciate.
Photo by Jim Thurston/Flickr