The stereotype of the out-of-touch judge goes back centuries, and is epitomised by the (probably apocryphal) example in the 1960s of the judge asking plaintively “who are the Beatles?” Often, one suspects, a judge will in fact be asking a question to which she knows the answer, but which she feels would benefit from explanation by counsel, or a witness.
But I noticed an interesting example of what might be a real misunderstanding in a recent judgment on an application to strike out claims arising from publication of a screenshot from Facebook, with associated statements. The claims have been brought in defamation, harassment, data protection and misuse of private information.
The screenshot was of a photograph of the claimant, said to have been taken outside a school, and in one case, posted on Twitter, it was accompanied by words, having the effect of a caption, saying “I see yer Da is doing ‘community watch’ again”.
In respect of the application to strike out the misuse of private information claim, the judge hearing the application had to consider whether the tweet constituted information in which the claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. One of the features he took into account was this:
The location was outside the school which the claimant’s daughter attended. The Facebook Post did not say this (because Ms K made clear that she did not know who the claimant was and there is no sign in the photograph of the claimant’s daughter). But that does not change the fact that the claimant was photographed outside his daughter’s school having just done the school run. The expression “yer Da” (part of the caption to the first tweet of the screenshot) suggested, correctly, that he was a parent. [emphasis added]
I do not think this is right. I do not think the expression did, nor was intended to, suggest the claimant was a parent. Those who spend some time on the internet become familiar with its particular idioms, and “yer Da” is one of those. It is not meant to be taken literally nor to suggest someone is a parent. The Urban Dictionary’s definition is on point:
A common meme of the mid-2010s, most popular in the UK, from the Scottish dialect of “your dad”, which involves someone making statements on a news story through the eyes of a stereotypically right-wing, conservative, reactionary middle aged British man, increasingly baffled and angry at the modern world.
It gives a number of example uses which it’s not necessary to quote here, but suffice to say that I suspect the use of “yer Da” was intended to be mockery, but not to suggest the claimant was a parent.
This is not to say that what I see as a misunderstanding by the judge has any real significance to the case (the phrase was by no means the only factor taken into account, in what is a multi-pronged claim arising from a clearly fractious background).
But it does show that language and idioms and the context in which they are used are complex things. The irony is that this is (partly) a libel case, an area of law where the subtleties of meaning can be profoundly relevant.
The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.