In a fairly lengthy judgement, District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London has given Julian Assange breathing space by denying the application for his extradition to the USA, made by the Trump administration. This extradition essentially for publishing information provided to Wikileaks by Chelsea Manning was not pursued by the Obama administration who evidently considered that issues of freedom of speech would make a prosecution unlikely : Obama also commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning who had been the original source of the Wikileaks releases.
Interestingly one of the arguments against the extradition raised by Assange’s team was that there exists in international law a Right to Truth and that in publishing the information Wikileaks, despite the embarrassment to the government of the USA, was merely publishing the truth. The Judge rejected that defence :
138.The defence have not established that the principle of the “right to the truth” is a legal rule that is recognised in either international law or domestic law. They identify no international convention or treaty that enshrines it as a free-standing legal right,still less one that has been ratified by the government and incorporated into domestic law. I accept that the phrase “right to the truth” appears in UN resolutions adopted by several UN bodies, but I have been provided with no authority to demonstrate that this translates into a right enforceable in English courts. I therefore reject the defence submissions that this principle would render Mr. Assange’s acts lawful in this jurisdiction.
This finding will no doubt be the subject of much interest and discussion in journalistic circles.
Judge Baraitser in her judgement skimmed over or dismissed several arguments concerning freedom of speech and other human rights issues and went straight to the Extradition Act 2003 (UK) and the physical and mental condition of Assange and his suitability for extradition balanced with the possibility or indeed probability that he would seek to commit suicide while in detention in the USA.The section of the act that the judge has relied on reads :
91 Physical or mental condition
(1)This section applies if at any time in the extradition hearing it appears to the judge that the condition in subsection (2) is satisfied.
(2)The condition is that the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.
(3)The judge must—
(a)order the person’s discharge, or
(b)adjourn the extradition hearing until it appears to him that the condition in subsection (2) is no longer satisfied.
Accordingly, with ample medical and psychiatric expert evidence the Judge made the Order [at 410]
“I order the discharge of Julian Paul Assange,pursuant to section 91(3) of the Extradition Act 2003.”
Even so on Wednesday UK time an application will be made to release Assange on bail pending what is likely to be a long and drawn out appeal process, if that course is adopted by the incoming Biden administration. Based on the judge’s findings concerning Assange’s ‘physical or mental’ condition it would seem that the bail application must surely succeed rather than continue his incarceration at Britain’s Belmarsh High Security jail where COVID-19 is also a very real risk : in the judgement the judge noted [at 346] that ” I find that Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide,if an extradition order were to be made,to be substantial”.
The difficulty for Assange is that, whilst he may be bailed and ultimately acquitted in the UK there is always the possibility that, should he return to Australia or another jurisdiction outside of the UK, he could again be confronted with an extradition request from a future vindictive US administration unless, of course, he receives a pardon from incoming President Biden or, less likely, the outgoing Trump administration.
We shall see, but at least things are heading in a positive direction for Assange despite his having been all but abandoned by the Morrison government.
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