back to article Judge in tech trial says he 'doesn't know what a website is'

Evidence has emerged today that British judges exhibit wildly differing levels of IT competence. One beak at least is almost unbelievably ignorant. Judge Peter Openshaw reportedly told prosecutors at Woolwich Crown Court, South East London: “The trouble is I don’t understand the language. I don’t really understand what a …


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  1. Steve Evans


    If this judge got more out of touch with the way we live today he'd qualify as royalty surely!

  2. Duncan Lundie

    Not surprised

    There is a particular type of person that revels in the fact that they are computer illiterate. They'll proudly admit to their lack of knowledge, do nothing to remedy the situation, and oddly, no-one calls them on it. This judge is a particularly bad example, but he's hardly alone.

  3. peter

    Start from basics

    As terrible as it is that the Judge didn't know what the trial was about, at least he explained his ignorance to the people. I would rather that than someone half guessing what is going on.

  4. Graham Lockley

    And your point is ?

    'Evidence has emerged today that British judges exhibit wildly differing levels of IT competence'

    No sh*t Sherlock ! Seems they reflect the make up of the rest of this isle.

    Everything from ubergeek to 'Oh I have no idea how to even turn one on'

    As the previous comment said, they seem perversly proud of their ignorance yet you never hear anyone saying ' Oh no I cant drive a car, wouldnt know where to start'

    Maybe if we started openly pitying them for their ignorance the attitude might change.

  5. JimC

    I used to say that...

    > you never hear anyone saying ' Oh no I cant drive a car, wouldnt know where to start'

    I only had a bike license until I was well over 30, and proudly proclaimed my lack of 4 wheeled driving capability. And if my employers hadn't required me to get one I probably still wouldn't have a car license...

  6. Graham Marsden


    Does the expression "Popular Beat Combo" ring any bells?!

    Not to mention Not the Nine o'Clock News' version of the gag...

  7. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    So why is this judge on an IT related case ?

    Surely judicial impartiality doesnt excuse them from basic competency ?

    While a judge doesnt need to understand accounting to deal with corporate crime, or medicine to deal with assaults, they at least need to know how what numbers are, or the general effects of injuries.

    As the article points out, other judges are more 'comfortable' with the relevant technologies.

  8. daniel

    Start with the basics: Dogbert school of IT

    In the beginning, God created the earth, then 4 1/2 billion years later, the india invented the number 0. 10000 years later, he invented you. Repeat after me: I have broccoli in my socks. Repeat again everyone, OK. We're done here.

    Thank you, you are now all fully certified as IT Ubergeeks and can also seek work from on a DSL Hotline, on the bench or in upper management, though the PHB course is extra.

    Thank you for attending. You may make your £5000 check out to Cash - as in Johnny. Pick your certificate up on the way out, and see you next year for your refresher course.

  9. Andy Silver badge

    The jury's out

    We are told that some kinds of trial are just too complex to be understood by a jury. What happens if they also involve judge-baffling technology?

  10. Colin Jackson


    "Digital watch? What on earth is a digital watch??"

  11. Peter Sommer

    But some judges are pretty good...

    The truth is judicial competence in IT matters is patchy not wholly absent, and it is difficult to predict, from judge to judge, what will happen in trial.

    But to redress the balance of this particular news item and based on my not infrequent appearances as expert witness:

    * a judge in the relatively sleepy market town of Aylesbury was fully up-to-speed with how peer-to-peer file sharing works

    * in the recent defamation case between WPP's Martin Sorrell and former Italian business partners, the judge was able to cope with blogs, onion-routing and other anonymising techniques and the contents of registries as found in Windows recovery points. (and his normal territory includes privacy squabbles involving celebrity magazines)

    * the district judge in the "pen-tester hacked into charity web-site" case had to understand web-servers, intrusion detection system logs and directory traversal hacks in deciding whether the Computer Misuse Act had been broken.

    * at least one member of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords is an enthusiast of flight simulators on the PC

    Usually the authorities assign appropriate judges to cases which involve computer-derived evidence, though obviously not in this case. But at least part of the resolution of the problem relies on the skills of lawyers and, erhem, expert witnesses

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And this one for my clients de-luxe model inflatable woman

    Whatever that is.

    "The de-luxe is the one with the real hair..."

    Methinks NTNOCN were remarkably prescient in their analysis of judges. Weak on technology, strong on smut :-)

  13. Gilbert Wham

    IT Training...

    well, if you want to teach someone how to use the internet, explain that there are pictures of naked people on it and leave them to their own devices for a while. They'll get the hang of it.

  14. BobS

    Alternatively ...

    This reminded me of those lazy tabloid stories which go around every so often, where a judge is quoted as asking “Who is <insert name of well know celeb>”. E.g. Who is Paul Gascoigne? The reality is that the judge knows who Gazza is, but has noticed that no one has testified that they mean ‘THE’ Paul Gascoigne as opposed to a Paul Gascoigne. To simplify matters, he simple asks for clarification. I presume the naïve phrasing of the question is to avoid appearing to give evidence by implying an answer.

    I’m never sure if the journalists concerned are ignorant of the truth, or simply pefer to fabricate a story at the expense of the judiciary.

    Given that the least able member of your average jury has a reading age, level of education, etc. etc. far below any judge; it seems likely that Judge Peter Openshaw is asking the experts to slow down for the benefit of the jury. I suppose he could ask the experts to produce a Janet & John version for the 12 drooling incompetents on the jury, but it’s not conducive to them assimilating the facts.

    Five minutes on Google produced the following:

    Tut, tut El Reg. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing you apply healthy scepticism to the stories you cover. Even if you don’t completely buy into the official version, would it hurt to present the alternatives?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    News reports have appeared implying that Mr Justice Openshaw, in the course of proceedings, did not understand the term 'website'. In fact the Judge is currently in the fifth week of presiding over a trial which is largely based on computer generated evidence. Evidence is being provided by expert witnesses that will inevitably be of a specialist nature. Trial judges always seek to ensure that everyone in court is able to follow all of the proceedings. They will regularly ask questions - not for their own benefit - but on behalf of all those following a case, in the interests of justice. In this specific case, immediately prior to the judge's comment, the prosecution counsel had referred to various internet forums with postings of comments relevant to the case. Mr Justice Openshaw was simply clarifying the evidence presented, in an easily understandable form for all those in court. Mr Justice Openshaw is entirely computer literate and indeed has taken notes on his own computer in court for many years.

    Peter Farr, Judicial Communications Office

  16. Chet Dowling

    Plausable deniability:

    "Porn, what porn?"

    "Website, what's that?"

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Judges are employed at least partially because they have an ability to learn about new things and not bluff when they don't know about something. It's all very well for us geeks to harp on about someone not knowing about something that we use every day, but I have had the opposite happen to me. I made the 'how can you have a professional vitamin' gaffe to my girlfriends dad (a doctor) queue a half hour talk about pro-vitamins with me saying 'start simply...'

    It is a good thing that judges know what to ask and when - how could you possibly expect them to know everything there is to know about science, engineering, the nature of drug addiction, fraud, intellectual property etc. etc.

  18. Jan Buys





    "Answering machine, what is that?"

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