Chortle is reporting that a 19 year old man has been arrested by Sunderland police after handing himself in following complaints regarding a joke posted to his Twitter account:
“So a bin lorry has crashed into 100 people in Glasgow eh, probably the most trash its ever picked up in one day that.”
The tweet was apparently deleted very shortly after it was posted.
Northumbria Police say that the man has been arrested on suspicion of making a malicious communication, and he has been bailed pending further inquiries.
It should be noted that CPS charging guidelines on the charging of social media posts require that a high evidential threshold must be met before determining that a post is sufficiently “grossly offensive” to warrant a charge being made. Further, section 40 of those guidelines is very clear on the role of banter and distasteful jokes as an element of free speech:
- Context is important and prosecutors should have regard to the fact that the context in which interactive social media dialogue takes place is quite different to the context in which other communications take place. Access is ubiquitous and instantaneous. Banter, jokes and offensive comments are commonplace and often spontaneous. Communications intended for a few may reach millions. As Eady J stated in the civil case of Smith v ADVFN  1797 (QB) in relation to comments on an internet bulletin board:
“… [they are] like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out; those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or ‘give and take’.”
- Against that background, prosecutors should only proceed with cases under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 where they are satisfied there is sufficient evidence that the communication in question is more than:
- Offensive, shocking or disturbing; or
- Satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment; or
- The expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
If so satisfied, prosecutors should go on to consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.