WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s US extradition case will be delayed amid concerns about his ability to attend hearings in person during Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.
District Judge Vanessa Baraister has adjourned the case until May 4 so lawyers can work out a new date for the next hearing, which could be as late as November 2.
The Australian’s lawyers argued there were many reasons to delay the case in the Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday (British time).
But Judge Baraister was only convinced by one: The potential inability for Assange and lawyers to attend the planned May 18 hearing in person.
“Remote attendance by the parties in this case will not be appropriate,” she ruled.
“It is now appropriate to vacate that hearing and fix it to a later date.”
If the case against Julian #Assange is delayed for so long, the UK system should grant him bail. Under the current conditions, he cannot prepare his legal defence and he is risking his life. His extradition hearing, it seems, might be postponed until NOVEMBER.
— Renata Avila (@avilarenata) April 27, 2020
Barrister Edward Fitzgerald had argued that defence lawyers had had only one brief phone call with Assange in more than a month.
He said they were due to meet him in the holding cells of Woolwich Crown Court last week but prison authorities wouldn’t allow it.
“With the coronavirus outbreak, the preparation for this case goes from difficult to impossible,” Mr Fitzgerald told the court.
“There are no person-to-person meetings. The alternative of video conferences is medically dangerous.
“Mr Assange will be facing a David and Goliath battle with his hands tied behind his back.”
The barrister argued that Britain’s lockdown prevented witnesses from attending in person and the media from monitoring proceedings.
Julian Assange’s lawyers will return to court on Monday, April 27th, to argue that his extradition trial should be postponedhttps://t.co/shsuW7AMm3
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 26, 2020
Mr Fitzgerald also raised the advice of Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot on extradition hearings earlier in April.
He said the senior judge had recommended extradition hearings only occur by video links if both parties agreed.
“In this case, both the prosecution and defence agree that it would not be fair to proceed with this hearing by video link,” he said.
Judge Baraister couldn’t see how the lockdown would affect case preparation, witness attendance or press reporting.
However, she granted the delay because the physical attendance of Assange and both legal teams on May 18 was doubtful.
Assange’s father John Shipton hopes he will apply for bail soon to protect his health.
“So Julian can come home to his family and children rather than being in constant danger of having a lung infection in a COVID prison where two people have died of the disease,” he said outside court.
“It’s just wrong. It’s just wrong. He’s an innocent man on remand.”
Mr Shipton added that Assange should be with his fiancee and two young sons.
“They do need their father, they do need him very soon,” he said.
Judge Baraister denied a bail application a fortnight ago, when Assange’s lawyers argued he was in danger of contracting the coronavirus in prison.
Assange faces 17 charges of violating the US Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.
He’s accused of publishing thousands of secret US diplomatic and military files, some of which revealed alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The charges carry a total of 175 years’ imprisonment.