U.K. judge stumped by Web lingo

In a trial probing the use of the Internet by alleged terrorists, Judge Peter Openshaw asks for a definition of "Web site."

If you're reading this, then the chances are pretty good that you know what a Web site is. So go tell it to the judge.

U.K. judge stumped by Web lingo

The man you'd want to speak to is Judge Peter Openshaw, who's presiding at Woolwich Crown Court in London over a trial in which three men stand charged with inciting terrorism over the Internet. According to a Reuters account of Wednesday's proceedings, Openshaw interrupted questioning to get a basic vocabulary check.

"The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a Web site is," Openshaw said. After the prosecutor did some explaining, the judge still was at a bit of a loss: "I haven't quite grasped the concepts."

It's hard to know from the brief Reuters piece whether the magistrate was playing devil's advocate in trying to nail down certain concepts or, at age 59, was fessing up that he's stuck in a pre-Web era of legal pads and snail mail. A number of bloggers gave Openshaw credit for being forthright, but many yelped about cluelessness in the courts.

Blog community response:

"I admit, it's difficult to grasp how anyone -- especially someone presiding over a case on internet terrorism -- could be so insulated from the everyday realities of modern life. But I must say I'm really quite impressed that Judge Openshaw is brave enough to admit this."
--Christopher MacKay's blog

"It's like me, a web developer, being asked to make a website about law. I don't understand law, I don't understand the terms, but I am an expert in making websites. I am there to apply my understanding of how to make a website; if I don't understand a legal term that is important to the website, I should be expected to admit it and find out about it, but not to resign every time I hear something that I don't understand."
--Slashdot user SausageOfDoom

"Isn't it ludicrous that any judge can get away with this? And in a serious case it's even more serious."
--Little Bulldogs

"God forbid if his next case involves online fraud in Second Life or something like that."
--Lalaia

Tags:
Tech Culture
About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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