Jail term for photographing courtroom. Wait, what?

photographing courtroom, Justice in the Courtroom CBS

Write this episode into any discussion of mobile technology and its discontents. A judge in the United Kingdom has sentenced a 19-year-old man to a couple of months in prison for taking a shot of a suburban London courtroom proceeding with his Blackberry.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reports the latest on the trials and tribulations of one Paul Thompson. who made an unfortunate decision to respond to a friend's email question about his whereabouts while in a public gallery in Luton Crown Court. Never in a million years would Thompson, who was in court to offer moral support for a friend being sentenced for robbing an off-duty police officer, expect what was about to happen to him.

A court bailiff pulled Thompson from his seat, relieving him of his smartphone en route to a detention cell. An hour later, Thompson was brought before presiding magistrate Barbara Mensah, where he admitted being in contempt of court. That was enough to merit a two-month sentence from Mensah who pointed out that there were notices all around the court building warning visitors not to take photographs in court.

"This is a serious offense and the message must go out that people cannot take photos," she told Thompson in handing down the verdict.

Perhaps this is of little solace to Thompson but he conceivably might have wound up with an even harsher punishment. According to Section 41 of Britain's Criminal Justice Act 1925, taking photographs in court is  verboten and the law gives crown courts the right to impose up to two years imprisonment or a fine.

A spokesman for the Howard League for Penal Reform slammed the sentence as evidence that the court was out of touch with technology.

Young people are so used to using their phones like this and a little understanding by the court would not have resulted in jail," a spokesman for the group told the Daily Mail.

As big a problem as all this posed for Thompson, perhaps an even bigger one awaits. According to his attorney, Thompson had left his eight-week-old puppy alone at home in his Luton apartment. Not only was the dog not house trained, according to the attorney, but no-one else had access to the flat.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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