By Alli Peacock.
Just when you thought tweeting was an innocent avenue of expression; think again! A UK college student was jailed Tuesday after posting offensive comments on Twitter following the collapse of Bolton soccer star Fabrice Muamba late in the first half of Bolton’s televised FA Cup quarter-final clash with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on March 17. Liam Stacey, 21, was sentenced to 56 days in prison after he admitted to committing a racially aggravated public order offense at Swansea Magistrates’ Court. The biology student from Pontypridd, South Wales, made the offensive comment following the collapse of the Premier League star. The first tweet stated;
“LOL. F–k Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha.“
However Stacey did not stop there. Fuelled by angry reactions to the tweet, he posted four further abusive messages, including racist posts directed to black users. He attempted to defend his comments, stating that someone had ‘hacked’ into his account, however the court refused this allegation sentencing him to 56 days imprisonment.
District Judge John Charles said: “In my view there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.”
Thankfully, Muamba has made an incredible recovery since suffered cardiac arrest, and remains in intensive care in a serious but stable condition.
Public Order of Offence
Governed by the UK law, public order laws exist to prevent persons from any act of imminent violence and punish persons for causing disruptions. According to the sentence imposed, Stacey is liable for a “racially aggravated public order offence”. The relevant provision breached by his actions is Part III of The Public Order Act 1986 (UK) with specific reference to ‘incitement to racial hatred’.
Part III of The Public Order Act (sections 18-23) outline circumstances that give rise to racial hatred. For an offence to be committed under these sections mentioned, there has to be one of the acts described therein; it has to be “threatening, abusive or insulting”, and it has to be intended to or likely in all the circumstances to stir up racial hatred.
In this circumstance, Stacey would have defended these allegations by arguing the right to free speech. In any free, democratic and tolerant society, people should have the right to robustly exchange views, even when they may cause offence. However, the Court must balance the rights of the individual to freedom of expression against the duty of the state to act proportionately in the interests of public safety, to prevent disorder and crime, and to protect the rights of others. Obviously on the facts, the judge decided the threat of imminent violence outweighed Stacey’s right to free speech.
This decision provides a cornerstone for personal expression on social networking platforms. It is evident the Courts in the UK (and therefore referable in Australia) are taking a stern approach to the use of these sites with regard to racial comments. Whilst some may argue that the threat of violence on the internet is less likely to occur, the offensive conduct will not be tolerated and the decision of a Court will be based heavily on the circumstances.
This blog is for discussion purposes only. This must not be considered legal advice.
For legal advice on this topic and references to any information in this article, please contact
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