Jake Newsome – Another social media jailing over an Ann Maguire posting

Jake Newsome – Another social media jailing over an Ann Maguire posting

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BBC
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Introduction

We looked at the case of Robert Riley who was jailed last month for tweeting offensive messaged relating to the death of Ann Maguire. Well, Mr Riley has a companion – on 4th June 2014 Jake Newsome was sentenced to six weeks in prison for a ‘malicious communications charge’. He was using Facebook rather than twitter, but the same issues are apparent.

 

Facts

As in most tweeting/social media cases the full messages aren’t published. According to the BBC – “Jake Newsome wrote that he was “glad” she had been stabbed and he “felt sorry” for the boy accused of her murder. The 21-year-old completed his post with an obscene suggestion“.

The Mirror reported that he had said ““Personally, I’m glad that teacher got stabbed up. Feel sorry for the kid. He should have p***** on her too.”

It’s not clear what the charge is. The news reports would indicate that it was under s1 Malicious Communications Act 1988, but it would be a similar outcome if it had been under s127 Communications Act 2003.

 

Comment

Firstly the sentence. The Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines are applicable (see page 40). Looking at the guidelines does not help much as they relate to telephone calls. But it would appear to have been treated by the Court as being a series of offensive messages with extreme language and a moderate impact. The increase in sentence from the starting point of six week (before the credit for a plea of guilty) may be explicable by the Court treating these messages as causing ‘substantial distress or fear’.

On that basis, the sentence is probably fair enough, if a little on the high side. The bigger question is whether he should have been prosecuted. The CPS policy on prosecution of social media offences gives four categories of messages :

  1. Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property.
  2. Communications which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
  3. Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order.
  4. Communications which do not fall into any of the categories above and fall to be considered separately (see below): i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

(1)-(3) don’t apply clearly, so it must be that the prosecution falls to be justified under (4). On the face of the Facebook postings as we’ve set out above, it is arguable whether these are ‘grossly offensive’. Even if they are, the policy states that the case “will be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.

It seems that there was not any argument as to the policy in Court (and in any event there have been some fairly dodgy decisions of the Court of Appeal on this point) which is disappointing.

Is this a case that calls out for a prosecution? Is one needed in the public interest? Is it compatible with Art 10 European Convention on Human Rights? We would suggest that the answer is no to all the above. Yet again we are seeing a knee jerk reaction by the CPS to people being caused offence (which is not, and should not be, a criminal offence). It is time that the CPS were called to justify how some of the decisions to prosecute are being made in these sorts of offences.

 

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps we could ask the late Mrs Maguire’s family whether they found these tweets offensive? Why do they offensive get to be lauded over the feelings of others. Look what happens when offensive posts are ignored, Elliot Rodgers, for the sake of free speech.

    • Is your position that people should be imprisoned for making offensive comments to prevent them becoming mass murderers?

      • My position is there is a pretence or wilful ignorance that word are powerless and cause no harm. When the pen (or spoken word) is mightier than the sword. Therefore “What, he was jailed just for saying…! (insert something awful that’s been said and play it down here).” Is to seek to fail to acknowledge this.

  2. The Collins judgement would suggest S1 Malicious Communications Act should not apply to this case. One to many communications should be charged under Section 127, agree not grossly offensive, as most people not offended, just a few who maybe knew Ann Maguire. The CPS have to take blame for the decision to prosecute, court did not decide guilt here.

  3. Of course what Newsome wrote was horrible. But sending him to prison for saying it is worse. Please keep posting details of these cases. They are the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

  4. What I is bizarre is that the CPS would make thisdecision to prosecute, when *their own guidelines* suggest that it wouldn’t be in the public interest. Is it possible that local CPS officers haven’t read what the head office is publishing!?

    • It’s a fair question. Obviously we don’t have all the prosecution disclosure, so we cannot say for sure. But, with that caveat, I would have advised him to try to have the proceedings stayed on the basis that they have not applied their own policy.

  5. […] and Twitter. With regards to the Newsome case, Lyndon Harris, lawyer and legal blogger, remarked: “At what point does unpleasant become criminal? You’re just locking people up for sayin… True indeed. But even so, social media is providing these individuals with a mouth-piece with which […]

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