19 December 2012

On-line posting guides aim to cut prosecutions

Users of Twitter and Facebook who post offensive messages are to be dealt with more leniently under fresh guidelines for England and Wales, in a move that could set an international standard for social media.

By James Barnes

Keir Starmer QC: freedom of speech concerns

Keir Starmer QC: freedom of speech concerns Getty Images

The interim measures, set out today by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC, are aimed at addressing the recent spate of criminal prosecutions against users of social media platforms that post offensive messages.

Free speech

British newspaper, The Independent, reports that Mr Starmer said the guidelines were needed because of a potential ‘chilling effect on free speech’. He added that whether the country needs new laws to deal with the issue is for parliament to decide.
Mr Starmer highlighted the conviction of Paul Chambers in 2010 for joking on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire. He admitted that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made the wrong ‘judgement call’ to prosecute the 28-year-old and included his solicitor in discussions over the law.

Diverse society

The new guidelines, which are effective immediately, suggest that a message must be ‘obviously’ beyond what is rightly considered tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression. They add that any prosecution must be in the public interest and therefore ‘necessary and proportionate’.
In a related development, yesterday the BBC and ITV apologised to Lord McAlpine at the High Court in London for ‘disastrously’ and falsely linking him to allegations of child sex abuse, accusations that were spread via social media sites.
The broadcasters agreed to pay the Tory peer damages of £185,000 and £125,000 plus legal costs respectively, according to The Guardian newspaper.

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