News World Julian Assange, Wikileaks co-founder, asks to be released from dock to sit with lawyers

Julian Assange, Wikileaks co-founder, asks to be released from dock to sit with lawyers

A court artist sketch of Julian Assange in the dock reading his papers at Woolwich Crown Court. Photo: AP
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Julian Assange had sat behind a glass-fronted dock in court room two at Woolwich Crown Court for days in silence, listening to legal arguments from the team of lawyers trying to have him sent to the United States and his own defence.

Always dressed in a grey suit and jumper, he normally looked straight ahead, showing no emotion.

But not today.

On Wednesday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser asked Assange’s lawyers to check whether the Australian was happy to continue with the hearing, noting he looked tired and that his eyes were closed.

She had been told at the start of day three of proceedings that the 48-year-old was now on medication that could mean he would need to break more frequently.

As his lawyers approached the dock to speak to their client, Assange stood and began to speak in frustration.

“I’m as much a participant in the court as a spectator at Wimbledon,” he told the court.

He told Judge Baraitser he had very little contact with his lawyers and can’t confidentially speak or instruct them from the dock, given there is a microphone above him and two security guards sitting on either side.

He also pointed to embassy staff sitting in the court room, two of whom were from Australia.

“This case already has enough spying on my lawyers as it is,” he said, making an apparent reference to the secret surveillance of him while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC later told the court his client was finding it “very difficult” and “very unfair” that he could not properly communicate with his legal team.

Mr Fitzgerald would lobby to have his client sit with the defence legal team and indicated to the court he could apply for bail to allow that to happen.

James Lewis QC, acting for the US government, said he would oppose any bail application, but did not oppose the idea of Assange sitting in the court room itself.

Judge Baraitser said it was not for her to decide as it was a matter for security, and will be discussed ahead of the start of the hearing on Thursday.

A mask-wearing supporter of Julian Assange outside Woolwich Crown Court. Photo: ABC

Earlier, the judge said she had become aware someone had taken a photo in the courtroom during the hearing, and said if caught taking or trying to take a photo that person would be considered in contempt of court and dealt with.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that it is a criminal offence to attempt to take a photograph … in any court,” she added.

Assange is being sought by the US on 18 counts of hacking US government computers and an espionage offence, having allegedly conspired with Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of secret documents almost a decade ago.

The hearing continues.