When the CPS declined to prosecute Daniel Thomas for comments made about the diver Tom Daley last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement saying he planned to review guidelines for prosecuting comments made on social media:
“Against that background, the CPS has the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls and, in the largely unchartered territory of social media, the CPS is proceeding on a case by case basis. In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained. But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response. If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.
“To ensure that CPS decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent, I intend to issue guidelines on social media cases for prosecutors. These will assist them in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought in the cases that arise for their consideration. In the first instance, the CPS will draft interim guidelines. There will then be a wide public consultation before final guidelines are published. As part of that process, I intend to hold a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the guidelines are as fully informed as possible.
As we all know the CPS suffered two defeats in quick succession over the summer when Paul Chambers and John Kerlen (better know to many as @Sir_Olly_C) had their convictions under s127 of the Communications Act (2003) quashed and the (hopeful) thought was that after Thomas they would call a halt to prosecutions until they had finished their review.
It is ironic then that on the day that the first discussion took place, Matthew Woods was prosecuted for offensive comments about the missing girl, April Jones.
Having read some of the comments he made, I wouldn’t recommend he takes up a career in comedy but they are certainly no more distasteful or offensive than any I heard (and no doubt repeated) after Hillsborough back when I was a pre-teen.
Woods pled guilty to this ‘crime’ – on whose advice I know not as I would have thought that a competent brief would have dug the Chambers and Kerlen verdicts out – and has been sentenced to a total of 12 weeks in a young offenders institution. The presiding magistrate had this to say on passing sentence:
“The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive.”
Sorry Mr. Hudson but the public being outraged is not a reason to hand a young man, however stupid he is, a criminal record and to waste taxpayers money by sending him to a secure institution for what will be no longer than 6 weeks just for typing words into a box on a social media platform.
I am regularly outraged by a lot stupid things that go on in the world but as abhorrent as I find them, I’m not going to call for the people involved to gaoled simply to fulfil my need to have them punished for their idiotic behaviour.
For the purposes of comparison it is worth noting, as I saw elsewhere, that 12 weeks is what Lord Ahmed got for dangerous driving, and I certainly can’t see how anyone could say that Woods’ actions were in any way dangerous to anyone’s life but his own.
No, the sickest joke of this entire affair is not the behaviour of Woods but that of the justice system. From the decision by the Police to arrest him ‘for his own safety’, to that of the CPS for prosecuting him and finally Mr. Hudson (who gives the impression of accepting the rule of the mob), each step has been an exercise in craven stupidity.
I hope that Matthew Woods appeals this appalling decision and wins.