The Orwell Prize Shortlisting

Amid my hangover (yes, it is 9pm, and yes, it is still lingering) I am grinning broadly and sqeeeeeing loudly, and saying in a very affected tone that I am a writer. Last night the shortlists for the Orwell Prize were announced and oh my golly aunt they included me – hence the new badge over on the right.

The competition is stiff – I have had a nosy. They are:

Baroque in Hackney

Benefit Scrounging Scum

Alex Massie

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi

Rangers Tax Case

Lisa Ansell (who happens to be a mate of mine)

Massive thanks to the Prize, and the judges, Hopi Sen and Suzanne Moore. More details of the Prize, and the shortlists for the book and journalism prize, are here.

Good luck to all, especially Lisa – if I don’t win, I sincerely want her to :D

The Award Ceremony thingy is open, so if you fancy coming, details are here:

New media, new law? No thanks.

On Friday afternoon, Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans was sentenced to five years for raping a 19 year old woman.

Almost immediately, the #ChedEvans hashtag appeared on Twitter, and later, #JusticeForChed. Some tweets displayed confusion, questioning why one defendant was found guilty, and one not. Others displayed varying levels of victim blaming; some could only be described as vile.

This continued all weekend. Then, on Sunday, someone named the woman who was apparently the complainant. The insults became more personal, and the levels of abuse directed at the alleged victim increased throughout the day.

Rape survivors fall into a special category of victims of crime, entitled to life long anonymity, applying to the survivor’s name, address, image and any other matter, if the publication could lead to the public identifying the person. A breach occurs if a person causes identifying matter to be published in England and Wales in a written publication available to the public. Whilst this legislation has not been tested when applied to Twitter, courts have found newspaper websites guilty of contempt of court, which, it can be argued, is analogous to this situation.

Several people contacted North Wales police; a spokeswoman for whom said they were collating all the relevant information.

The Director of End Violence Against Women, Holly Dustin, issued a statement saying:

“It has long been law that rape complainants are protected by lifetime anonymity and those who have named her have been reported to the police for committing a criminal offence. This raises serious questions about the adequacy of the criminal justice system to deal with offences that occur online and we are calling for an urgent review of laws and practices.”

Does it? Or actually does this statement simply display a misunderstanding of how law works?

Law isn’t a shield preventing a bad thing happening – it cannot stop people behaving in a certain way; it can only simply prescribe a punishment or remedy should people behave in a certain way. Our modern digital world enables us to see more easily behaviour we knew existed in any event. We have already criminalised that behaviour because we knew it existed.

In addition, the provision for life-long anonymity isn’t the only law which would apply to those tweets – there is the possibility of offences having been committed under section 127 Communications Act 2003, if the tweets can be deemed to be grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, and under section 4A Public Order Act 1986 if the tweets can be deemed to contain threatening, abusive or insulting words.

While I have every sympathy for the complainant in this case, we really must stop and think about calling for new laws every time something we don’t like happens – especially when the call goes out before the criminal justice system has even had the opportunity to show what it can do in this situation. It really isn’t helpful, and it lessens the remainder of the message.

*** It has been pointed out to me by @Pam_nAshes that the name was first mentioned on Twitter on Friday.



#FreeTheBexleyOne the hashtag goes.  ‘Man faces jail for swearing on Twitter’ the Twitterati say.  ‘Stop the assault on freedom of speech’ they implore.

Has there been an assault on freedom of speech? Is a man about to go to jail for swearing on Twitter? Should indeed the Bexley one, John Graham Kerlen, who tweets under the name @Sir_Olly_C, be freed, although he has not yet been sentenced? Is this a ‘bad law’ story demonstrating that the law is, as it sometimes can be, an ass, or is the story more complicated than may at first appear?

John Graham Kerlan was found guilty on Friday 13th April of an offence contrary to s127 Communications Act 2003, which reads:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

I have asked the CPS for the charge sheet, which has been so far unforthcoming – should it arrive and render the rest of this post incorrect, I will of course post corrections.

The conviction relates apparently to two tweets, posted by Mr Kerlan. The first was a picture of a house belonging to a Bexley councilor, saying:

Which c*** lives in a house like this. Answers on a postcard to #bexleycouncil.

The second said:

‘It’s silly posting a picture of a house on Twitter without an address, that will come later. Please feel free to post actual shit.’

Globally, the legal test for whether a message is grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character is the ‘reasonable man’ test – that is, would a reasonable man, seeing that message, consider it grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. In order to determine this, the judge puts himself in the place of a reasonable man and asks himself that question.

So, assuming we are reasonable people we can ask ourselves that question. Looking at those two tweets, would we say that they were:

Grossly offensive?

Indecent in character?

Obscene in character?

Menacing in character?

Using my internal moral compass, I say yes, no, no, yes.  The test for ‘grossly offensive’ is whether the message would cause gross offence to those to whom it relates, regardless of whether they were the recipient.  Would the reasonable man, looking at that, be able to say that the person to whom those tweets relate, would find them grossly offensive? I’d say so.

Are they menacing? Would the reasonable man, looking at those tweets, consider that the person to whom then related would find them menacing? Again, I’d say so – I certainly would.

Are they indecent, or obscene? I’d say not. But the law doesn’t require all points to be made out – the law requires the messages to be either grossly offensive, or indecent in character, or obscene in character, or menacing in character. That a message is more than one is a bonus for the prosecution frankly.

Finally, turning to the cries of assaults upon freedom of expression, it has to be remembered freedom of expression is a qualified right. The higher courts have already considered the balancing of freedom of expression with section 127, and came to this conclusion:

‘Section 127(1)(a) does of course interfere with a person’s right to freedom of expression. But it is a restriction clearly prescribed by statute. It is directed to a legitimate objective, preventing the use of a public electronic communications network for attacking the reputations and rights of others. It goes no further than is necessary in a democratic society to achieve that end.’

Lord Bingham, DPP v Collins (here).

In summary, swearing on Twitter is not a crime. Frankly, only a silly c*nt would think so. But being menacing, or being grossly offensive? That is.



The standard police defence

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty.

We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Colonel Jessop, A Few Good Men. You hear something similar from an alarming number of police officers should you have the temerity to question shootings, racism, deaths in custody. The police service has to start to recognise that while we are grateful for the protection they offer, that protection does not mean we are not allowed to question when they act beyond the bounds of what they are charged to do.

The police service wants us to respect the difficult job they do. While the Jessop attitude pervades, that respect is a long way off.

As subtle as a…

You know what I am on about without me finishing the title. Yes, yes, it is *that* woman, in *that* series of Daily Mail articles.

Much has been written, pretty much everywhere, with reactions ranging from astonishment to frankly, the downright nasty, not least of which by the Daily Mail itself today, using a series of photographs that can at best be described as unflattering – causing folk who comment there, not usually the kindest set of people one can find on the ‘net to suggest that the paper itself is now being less than kind.

However, I digress. To summarise her point (I think there was one), she seemingly suggests that she is discriminated against by other women, due to her looks.

The shame is, that if she hadn’t written that piece about herself – if she had simply written an opinion piece that some women discriminate against other women based on looks, she would have a fair point.

Not only fair point, but an important one. In a piece entitled “Don’t hate me because I am beautiful” The Economist this week reports that research by two Israeli academics suggests that whereas for men, attractiveness increases their chances of employment, for women it decreases it (here).

The pair sent out similar CVs in response to job adverts – one containing a photo and one not. They discovered that for applications direct to a company (i.e. not via a recruitment consultant) attractive women made 11 applications before being invited to an interview; the less attractive being invited after making 7.

Having discounted what they call the ‘dumb-blonde hypothesis’ by having the photographs they used ranked for intelligence, they looked at why this was occurring. They found that 93% of those who made the decision as to whether an interview should be offered were female, leading them to the conclusion that some women will discriminate against attractive women candidates.

Here in the UK, it is unusual to send out a CV containing a photo. However, we live in the age of Google, where if you have even the most mediocre of digital footprints, there is likely to be an image of you online – and it is known that those responsible for recruitment do engage in a little digital investigation of prospective candidates.

This then raises two points. Firstly, is there discrimination, and if so, how do we counteract it; and secondly, come on girls, life is hard enough without us having this sort of crack at each other. However, judging by the reaction to a certain female this week, the civil war in our gender is alive and very well.