Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

British judge asks what a website is

Out-Law News | 18 May 2007 | 9:44 am | 1 min. read

UPDATED: A British judge this week stopped a trial to ask what a website was. The case is a trial of three men accused of inciting terrorism which could involve evidence about their use of the internet.

Judge Peter Openshaw had to halt questioning to ask for clarification of some common terms.

"The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a website is," Openshaw told Woolwich Crown Court in London on Wednesday, according to Reuters. "I haven't quite grasped the concepts."

Openshaw is presiding over the trial of three men under the Terrorism Act. The charges include the incitement of others to commit acts of terrorism and some of the evidence yet to be heard is thought to be likely to be technical in nature.

Openshaw said that he hoped that computer experts slated to give evidence in the future would bear in mind his limited understanding. "Will you ask him to keep it simple?" he said. "We’ve got to start from basics."

Younes Tsouli, 23, Waseem Mughal, 24, and Tariq al-Daour, 21, deny charges under the Terrorism Act. Some of the charges accuse the men of inciting terrorism through the internet.

The case will reportedly examine evidence of some violent Islamist material posted on the internet.

Two of the men, Tsouli and Mughal, deny a charge of conspiracy to murder. Al-Daour has denied charges of conspiring with others to defraud banks, credit card and charge card companies.

Editor's note, 18/05/2007, 12:10 GMT: OUT-LAW has received a statement from the Judicial Communications Office, arguing that the judge's comments have been taken out of context. Here is the statement in full:

A media report on a judge reported as saying “I don’t really understand what a website is” has been taken out of context.

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.