US v Julian Assange Westminster Magistrates Court 3, 27 July 2020 Administrative and Case Management Hearing
Present at Court were Judge Vanessa Baraitser, Fitzgerald QC for Defence, Smith QC for Crown Prosecution Service /United States Department of Justice. There were 9 souls in the public gallery, 6 members of the press in court. Judge Baraitser, after a stern demand last time, that Julian attend via video link from HMP Belmarsh, seemed nonplussed by his absence shortly after 10 am. Belmarsh staff had denied a booking was scheduled or couldn’t find him (??), either by neglect or design. Baffling, since last month they emailed Baraitser claiming Julian was well enough to be transferred to the video link facility and had refused to cooperate.
She asked Fitzgerald if he was willing to proceed in the light of Belmarsh’s failure to produce? He responded that without instruction from his client he could not address any matters of substance, especially with possible new US requests superseding the current requests. Baraitser called an adjournment while Fitzgerald attempted to contact Julian Assange by telephone. After an hour the case resumed with Julian on the video link from Belmarsh.
Julian Assange looks tired, clean shaven, with short white hair. Wearing his own clothes he states his name and stumbles on his date of birth. Baraitser asks Smith if he has any further requests? No fresh requests, he replies. Judge: I can’t make any orders today without the new requests. Fitzgerald says that if they are to discharge the first request [for extradition] due to breaching the Treaty on political motivation grounds, a violation of his human rights, then the evidence served on the defence at the February trial….
Baraitser interrupted to say that: “There is no new request (before the court) yet and I advise you to reserve comment until such a time”. Fitzgerald replied, somewhat ignoring the judge’s request: “I am told that this new request is coming”. Baraitser replied : “No doubt it will be available, it is premature to comment”. Fitzgerald continued: “Any fresh request suggests the 7 Sept date could be delayed and as Mannings revelations in Afghanistan and Iraq impact on the future course, if it is going to happen, can it happen asap, so as not to be kept in the dark…..at this stage with consequences to derail the proceedings as the US is doing for a political purpose as Trump claims it is a plot by the Democrats, Based on actual evidence (of a political nature)”.
Baraitser questioned CPS QC Smith as to a time for the new request, which he was unable to provide but said he would like to lay down a marker for further evidence. Baraitser remarked that there had to be time for further responses or it will be ‘a circle that never ends’ She sets the date for the next Case Management hearing of 14 August 2020 and expects Julian to appear via the video link unless the medical reports indicate otherwise.
She asked Smith if the 3 weeks in September was sufficient to try the case. He would not commit and said it was sufficient to proceed and see how much they could achieve, asking to schedule another week. Baraitser said she would check with the Old Bailey for a fourth week but warned that lead prosecutor Lewis was only available for 4 weeks and as a precaution would ask all parties for their availability beyond the end of September.
She turned to Julian and told him she expected to see him on 14 August but failed to ask him if he had understood the proceedings and at no point had allowed him to confer with counsel, almost impossible with the video link from Belmarsh which was then terminated. Hearing over.
What can we conclude from this Punch & Judy judicial hearing? Despite warnings Fitzgerald was able to pre-empt the new request for extradition by pointing out the flaws in the old requests and Baraitser had to admit that the prosecution had limited time to produce such a request. It does appear that there is a certain amount of panic from the US prosecutors about the weakness of their case and the prospect of a pre November election defence victory. Julian Assange’s partner Stella Morris wrote that she had spoken to Julian and she anticipates the US will drop it’s existing extradition request and re-arrest him on the very same 18 charges under a different extradition request.
She called for an ‘educational surge’ -starting now and to be sustained throughout the September hearings – ‘to educate, foster empathy for Julian and manifest that fundamental principles of democracy could perish with this case, alongside Julian Assange.’ Indeed, and if Judge Baraitser needs any further evidence of the political nature of the US requests she needs no more than to check POTUS twitter account, I understand widely available on-line.
Joe Brack EF Press
Photos from outside the Court