Twitter Offences - Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (Full Version)

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Rebenectomy -> Twitter Offences - Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 9:14:44 AM)

I've been living in a bit of a news free bubble for the past few weeks, so I missed the initial story when it broke, but I was reading Victoria Coren's piece in the Observer regarding the 56 day jail sentence handed out to Liam Stacey for comments made about footballer Fabrice Mumba and subsequent replies on Twitter and was wondering about the implications of such a trial and sentence.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/08/victoria-coren-liam-stacey-tweets

What do you think? I'll make no apologies for the racial content of his tweets (a bit more insight into content here) but I do think Coren makes some interesting points about what Stacey was charged with and how sentencing has been handled.

So is the racist idiot getting what he deserved (and regardless of sincerity should have known better given the precedent by the notorious airport 'bomb threat' case) or are we seeing further examples of freedom of expression being curtailed by an over sensitive judicial system keen to show it is tough on crime regardless of the individual particulars of the case?




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 9:45:18 AM)

I read that too. I'm honestly not sure. I got the impression the law is feeling its way on how to deal with stuff like this on social media (that whole definition of inside/outside eg simply isn't properly worded to be clear what the offence is if it's Twitter/Facebook). But I was trying to see if those people charged after the riots for using Facebook to try and get another riot going, or in Glasgow wrt a party in Kelvingrove Park, were all charged using the same legislation or if it was a mish-mash of different legislation being used to backfill into a legal gap. And also that chap ludicrously charged over the airport vent.

Did he commit an offence - I think so. This isn't a private view in a private situation, it's an offensive broadcast to far more people than a nutter with a loudhailer would be able to. Although how that can be an offence and not film of BNP meetings I don't know.

Jail time seems excessive, especially at 56 days. And I'm very worried too about that 'public outrage' comment - I'm sorry, but the Mail manages to generate public outrage for the most ridiculous things and citing that as a reason for any sentence is lynch mob justice. That's what we have the law for.




sanchia -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 9:48:58 AM)

I tend to think there needs to be a recognisable balance in sentencing. The problem a lot of people have is that people commit actual physical crime and receive smaller sentences and this was a pretty hefty sentence. Then again having spent some time reading the Yahoo News comment section where people are calling for violence and in some cases murder against people due to skin colour I can see that something does need to be done to discourage such actions as there are some complete nutters on there.

The argument given is always "freedom of speech" which appears to be the mantra of the far right to say some pretty inflammatory. libellous, outright false, and sometimes downright evil and barbaric things but I do tend to think that in a civilised society there needs to be a line. The problem is that some people do not have those civilised limits and with the advent of the internet feel they can get away with an awful lot more than they would in reality. There are limits to freedom of speech but it is a fine line. I tend to be of the opinion that if you can back up what you say with evidence and logic you can say more than if all you rely upon is bias, opinion and lies.




JessFranco -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:06:02 AM)

quote:

What do you think? I'll make no apologies for the racial content of his tweets (a bit more insight into content here) but I do think Coren makes some interesting points about what Stacey was charged with and how sentencing has been handled.


Coren didn't seem 100% sure about what he had been charged, used a dictionary rather than legal definition of some of the terms and made the point that it wasn't a jury trial - which might have been because he pleaded guilty. Irrespective of the outcome of the case, i'm not sure how much stock i'd hold in the details of the argument.

Jail might have been excessive but i don't really have a problem with him being held criminally accountable for racial abuse.




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:10:27 AM)

Rather than that, I think Coren was making the point that those who'd condemned him didn't seem to know what he'd been charged with, let alone what he actually did to be charged. 




superdan -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:20:55 AM)

Whilst he is obviously a massive dickhead, the punishment is wildly disproportionate to the crime.




Kilo_T_Mortal -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:45:26 AM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

Rather than that, I think Coren was making the point that those who'd condemned him didn't seem to know what he'd been charged with, let alone what he actually did to be charged.†


Was she arguing that the court system didn't know or simply that the reporters covering it didn't bother to find out? I think they are quite different issues. The first is the murky, sinister state controlled judiciary that she seems to hint at. The second is just lazy journalism, because frankly no one really cares that much.




Kilo_T_Mortal -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:47:25 AM)

On a side tangent could a certain recently self-expelled ex-forum member be convicted because of what he wrote?




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 10:48:27 AM)

The link's in Reb's opening post. She was talking about the coverage.

She did then go on to look at the charge that was used against him (presuming the detailed reference was accurate) and admitted some confusion to its relevance. However it did also note that the judge apparently referenced 'public outrage' as a relevant factor in the case.




JessFranco -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:06:25 AM)

I'm not sure why there'd be a huge problem with the public not being shown the precise content of the tweets. They're accessible to anyone who wants to look for them and, in general, in the rare cases racial abuse makes the papers, it's not as they they normally go "the defendant is accused of calling Mr X an Arab **** who should **** off back to *******-land" without asterisks. The fact that this was written down, rather than said, seems to be the only major difference. I can see why face-to-face racial abuse in a context that others would perceive as threatening would be seen as more serious but this seems more-or-less on a par with shouting at players from the safety of the terraces - which isn't usually brought up as a freedom of speech issue.




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:24:42 AM)

'Family' newspapers tend to talk moral outrage while showing undressed girlies and commenting on a woman's looks, though. I think the issue was more that Coren wasn't convinced some of the journalists had bothered actually looking at them given what they'd written. 




JessFranco -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:27:24 AM)

I imagine they probably would have done as it takes about five seconds to find it on Youtube and they'd have wanted to pick out any salacious quotes they could. The bigger problem is that the judge probably shouldn't be referencing 'public outrage' even if that public outrage is entirely well-informed and justified.




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:34:15 AM)

Absolutely.  




Rebenectomy -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:42:18 AM)

I agree with what Jess said earlier in that I have no problem with criminalising certain aspects of racism, but I do think there needs to be clarity on what grounds it is done. For example, Coren states that nothing Stacey tweeted constitutes as harassment, though this was the reason given by some papers for his charge and conviction, and the breach that he was actually charged with was this:

no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harrassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling

That is about as clear as mud to me, though when applied to this case, it seems to imply that cyber space/twitter is the dwelling? In that case could it not also, as Kilo states, be applied to somewhere like Empire? For example, I'd say there are a fair few people, rightly or wrongly, who have at some point considered themselves if not harassed, but 'alarmed or distressed' by racial, sexual or gender comments on these pages.





JessFranco -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:54:11 AM)

The conduct (on Empire and elsewhere) would probably be covered by the Communications Act even if it wasn't covered by anything else. Precisely how the decision to charge anyone under a particular law is made isn't immediately clear but i don't think there's any room for doubt that sending people racist abuse on Twitter is illegal.





Dpp1978 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 11:54:32 AM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: JessFranco

quote:

What do you think? I'll make no apologies for the racial content of his tweets (a bit more insight into content here) but I do think Coren makes some interesting points about what Stacey was charged with and how sentencing has been handled.


Coren didn't seem 100% sure about what he had been charged, used a dictionary rather than legal definition of some of the terms and made the point that it wasn't a jury trial - which might have been because he pleaded guilty. Irrespective of the outcome of the case, i'm not sure how much stock i'd hold in the details of the argument.

Jail might have been excessive but i don't really have a problem with him being held criminally accountable for racial abuse.


I find it ironic that someone criticising the coverage of the case should comment on the law involved with seemingly no understanding of it. this is evidenced by the noted use of a dictionary definition when a perfectly clear legal definition exists. If there was no legal definition that would be one thing: judges use the OED as a resource too in such cases. But to pick the dictionary definition because she has, "a greater faith in the OED" shows at best, laziness.

Similarly the failure to adequately cite the offence, (he was charged with a public order offence: causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress under s4A of the Public Order Act 1988 which was racially aggravated as per s31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it isn't that hard). As she was writing for a major publication which undoubtedly would have a department where she could check her facts there really is no excuse, unless you are doing it to make a point. If she was it was poorly made.

It wasn't a jury trial because s4A is a summary offence.


quote:

ORIGINAL: Kilo_T_Mortal

On a side tangent could a certain recently self-expelled ex-forum member be convicted because of what he wrote?


Potentially anyone on any public or semi public forum could be called up on anything they write which is harasses, alarms or distresses another member, be it the member it is aimed at or not. You add racial, sexual or any other discrimination, and it could become a hate crime.

It seems from the Paul Chambers case that context is irrelevant. If you write something, even a joke to a friend, that someone finds upsetting you could end up in court.

It is a scary world we are moving into.




Rebenectomy -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 12:04:25 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978

Potentially anyone on any public or semi public forum could be called up on anything they write which is harasses, alarms or distresses another member, be it the member it is aimed at or not. You add racial, sexual or any other discrimination, and it could become a hate crime.



I was quite alarmed by by the fact that someone on this forum admitted finding Hetty the Hoover attractive. Should I take this to criminal or civil proceedings? It's such a minefield.




superdan -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 12:34:57 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978
It seems from the Paul Chambers case that context is irrelevant. If you write something, even a joke to a friend, that someone finds upsetting you could end up in court.


I AM IN SO MUCH TROUBLE.

Rhubarb, I am sorry about the 'Shut up ginge' comment I made earlier.




Emyr Thy King -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 2:44:09 PM)

Well they do say the proof's in the pudding.

As for Brighton, Dan:

quote:

section 4 a public order act 1986:

Intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, heó

(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

(2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3)It is a defence for the accused to proveó

(a)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or


(b)that his conduct was reasonable.

(4)A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under this section.

(5)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both.


It looks like you're safe but I think we can easily infer 3(b) was anything but....however, what goes on tour stays on tour.




elab49 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 3:03:30 PM)

What I find odd is that the Act used was from 1988 - so has this been subsequently adjusted to accommodate the internet/twitter/facebook or is the judiciary trying to squeeze in definitions given all of this is someone sitting in dwellings on their computers talking to/at others indoors in dwellings? Or is an offence being registered as soon as someone logs in and has a look outside a dwelling?




MonsterCat -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 3:13:35 PM)

quote:

ORIGINAL: Rebenectomy

I was quite alarmed by by the fact that someone on this forum admitted finding Hetty the Hoover attractive. Should I take this to criminal or civil proceedings? It's such a minefield.



Y'know, you admit to finding Ryan Gosling hot and no one bats an eyelid, but when you declare your love for a vacuum cleaner everybody gets up in arms about it. : (




matty_b -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 3:19:55 PM)

quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978


quote:

ORIGINAL: JessFranco

quote:

What do you think? I'll make no apologies for the racial content of his tweets (a bit more insight into content here) but I do think Coren makes some interesting points about what Stacey was charged with and how sentencing has been handled.


Coren didn't seem 100% sure about what he had been charged, used a dictionary rather than legal definition of some of the terms and made the point that it wasn't a jury trial - which might have been because he pleaded guilty. Irrespective of the outcome of the case, i'm not sure how much stock i'd hold in the details of the argument.

Jail might have been excessive but i don't really have a problem with him being held criminally accountable for racial abuse.


I find it ironic that someone criticising the coverage of the case should comment on the law involved with seemingly no understanding of it. this is evidenced by the noted use of a dictionary definition when a perfectly clear legal definition exists. If there was no legal definition that would be one thing: judges use the OED as a resource too in such cases. But to pick the dictionary definition because she has, "a greater faith in the OED" shows at best, laziness.

Similarly the failure to adequately cite the offence, (he was charged with a public order offence: causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress under s4A of the Public Order Act 1988 which was racially aggravated as per s31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it isn't that hard). As she was writing for a major publication which undoubtedly would have a department where she could check her facts there really is no excuse, unless you are doing it to make a point. If she was it was poorly made.

It wasn't a jury trial because s4A is a summary offence.


quote:

ORIGINAL: Kilo_T_Mortal

On a side tangent could a certain recently self-expelled ex-forum member be convicted because of what he wrote?


Potentially anyone on any public or semi public forum could be called up on anything they write which is harasses, alarms or distresses another member, be it the member it is aimed at or not. You add racial, sexual or any other discrimination, and it could become a hate crime.

It seems from the Paul Chambers case that context is irrelevant. If you write something, even a joke to a friend, that someone finds upsetting you could end up in court.

It is a scary world we are moving into.



Paul could have a field day. [:D]




Emyr Thy King -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 3:42:12 PM)

Well one sucks more than the other. But to be fair to him Notebook was a one-off.




King of Kafiristan -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 4:23:16 PM)

Boggles my mind a private citizen could face any legal action whatsoever over his views, as long as those views were not advocating violence. If his postings violated TWITTER or FACEBOOK TERMS OF SERVICE, then delete his account. Throwing someone in the brig because they're a racist, no matter how vile their views may be, is an affront to human rights. I was very much surprised to see this happen in the UK. [:(]




Spaldron -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 4:42:12 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: superdan


quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978
It seems from the Paul Chambers case that context is irrelevant. If you write something, even a joke to a friend, that someone finds upsetting you could end up in court.


I AM IN SO MUCH TROUBLE.

Rhubarb, I am sorry about the 'Shut up ginge' comment I made earlier.



This ^

I've called Rhub a ginge so many times I've lost count. Oh well, nice knowing you guys, I'll see you when I get out. [sm=scared04.gif]




Dpp1978 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 4:47:00 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

What I find odd is that the Act used was from 1988 - so has this been subsequently adjusted to accommodate the internet/twitter/facebook or is the judiciary trying to squeeze in definitions given all of this is someone sitting in dwellings on their computers talking to/at others indoors in dwellings? Or is an offence being registered as soon as someone logs in and has a look outside a dwelling?



It isn't uncommon.

A lot of the law regarding internet based commerce is from Acts and cases which pre-date the internet. Every time a new innovation arises which alters how we live the law plays catch-up. Even much of the law specifically drafted to cater for internet commerce pre-dates things like social networking and blogging as we know it today. Technology and social changes due to it moves on at an astonishing pace, whereas the law moves at a pace not much faster than glacial. It is impossible for it to keep up.

What the court has to do in such cases where the law is behind is attempt to draw parallels between the case in hand and cases in the past using more traditional means of communication. After all it would be a massive miscarriage of justice if someone got away with wrongdoing, or someone was denied a just remedy for lack of a precisely applicable law. Sometimes this is quite easy: equating an e-mail to a traditional letter is an obvious example (although in certain circumstances distinctions have been made).

For a post on twitter is harder to find a good analogy. it is in written form and published online so it is tempting to equate it to a piece of published work. However they are often spur of the moment streams of consciousness more akin to speech. What analogy should one draw?

Now the indoors/inside a dwelling area is interesting. S4A was actually added to the Act in 1995 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (the same act which watered down the right to remain silent). It also pre-dates the explosion in personal internet use, if only just.

When it was drafted it was much harder to harass, alarm or distress a random person. You pretty well had to go out of your way to do so. The only way for most people to do so would be over the phone or face to face. The opportunity to disseminate our thoughts and opinions the internet has given us was still science fiction.

Of course now we can outrage an almost unlimited number of total strangers from our homes via any number of internet enabled devices, or even while out and about using our phones. It seems, if you are going to charge someone with a s4A offence for something posted online in the world we have today it would be absurd that a person who posted from his phone while in public could be charged whilst an internet warrior would be immune if he posted from the safety of his bedroom.

However it is fraught with danger. It automatically give rise to a very real legal issue which would be almost certainly grounds for appeal.

I'm very wary of criminalising speech over the internet, even if the speech in question is something which sickens me. I'd hope at least a little common sense was used. Cases like the Paul Chambers prosecution show this is not always true.


quote:

ORIGINAL: matty_b

quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978

Potentially anyone on any public or semi public forum could be called up on anything they write which is harasses, alarms or distresses another member, be it the member it is aimed at or not. You add racial, sexual or any other discrimination, and it could become a hate crime.

It seems from the Paul Chambers case that context is irrelevant. If you write something, even a joke to a friend, that someone finds upsetting you could end up in court.

It is a scary world we are moving into.



Paul could have a field day. [:D]



Emphasis should be on the word could. It still remains unlikely that anything stated online will lead to prosecution.

However the fact remains that if something posted on Twitter can lead to charges, something posted here almost certainly could just as easily.




Shifty Bench -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 4:48:09 PM)

Does this mean we can't call each other cunts any more?




Woger -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 4:57:23 PM)

It depends who gets called c***.




Dpp1978 -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 5:09:44 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: Shifty Bench

Does this mean we can't call each other cunts any more?


You'll be fine as long as you don't intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

quote:

ORIGINAL: Woger

It depends who gets called c***.


Never a truer word written. There will always be some precious flower who will take offence where none was meant, and some of those are spiteful enough to try to get a person prosecuted.

However s4A (3) provides a defence if you can prove your conduct was reasonable. There are certainly times where calling a person a cunt is not only reasonable, it is a gross understatement.




rawlinson -> RE: Should Liam Stacey have gone to prison? (9/4/2012 5:12:08 PM)


quote:

ORIGINAL: Dpp1978

There are certainly times where calling a person a cunt is not only reasonable, it is a gross understatement.



[sm=happy07.gif]




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