July 7, 2021

Assange Extradition: British High Court Grants US A Limited Appeal

The High Court of Justice rejected US efforts to "second guess" factual findings made about medical and expert evidence.

Royal Courts of Justice in London, which houses the High Court of Justice (Photo: Joe Passe)


The High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom agreed to hear the United States government’s appeal in the extradition case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange but on limited grounds.

According to Stella Moris, who is Assange’s partner, the High Court rejected the efforts of the U.S. government to “second guess the magistrates’ conclusions on medical and expert evidence.” It allowed the U.S. to challenge the court's findings on prison conditions.

No date was immediately set for a hearing on the appeal, and it was unclear whether the High Court had considered the request by Assange’s legal team for a cross-appeal.

The Dissenter reviewed the appeal submissions, which are not publicly available.

On behalf of the U.S. government, the Crown Prosecution Service challenged District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision to oppose extradition on account of Assange’s “medical condition.”

Prosecutors contended the judge made errors of law when determining whether it would be oppressive to approve his extradition. They also insisted the judge should have notified the U.S. government of her “provisional view” so they could offer her “assurances” to alleviate her concerns.

Furthermore, prosecutors maintained the judge should have disqualified defense psychiatrist Professor Michael Kopelman, whose assessment and testimony on Assange played a crucial part in her decision.

Attorneys for Assange countered claims that the Crown Prosecution Service put forward in the appeal, maintaining Baraitser did not commit an error when she concluded Assange’s “suicidal impulses” would come from his “psychiatric condition” and would not be “his own voluntary act.”

Regarding the argument that the judge was wrong to favor Kopelman’s evidence, Assange’s legal team asserted, “This attack totally fails to recognize the entitlement of the primary decision maker to reach her own decision on the weight to be attached to the expert evidence of the defense on the one hand and the prosecution experts on the other.”

The High Court apparently agreed Baraitser was well within her right to consider what weight to attach to evidence from each of the medical professionals.

Prosecutors offered the High Court “assurances” that were never put forward during or prior to the extradition trial. They suggested the U.S. government would not impose special administrative measures (SAMs) against Assange in pretrial confinement or in prison if he was convicted, though they did not say they would not hold him in administrative segregation or other forms of isolation.

Assange “will receive clinical and psychological treatment as is recommended by a qualified treating clinician employed or retained by the prison,” where he is held, the prosecutors added.

The prosecutors claimed Assange would not be imprisoned at ADX Florence in Colorado, a supermax prison, but they included a caveat that left open the possibility that he could be sent to the facility if he committed a “future act” that met the “test for designation.”

Significantly, the prosecutors tried to salvage the extradition case by agreeing to allow Assange to apply for prisoner transfer to Australia under the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.” The U.S. government would “consent to the transfer.”

Assange’s legal team bristled at this offer. “They had every opportunity to offer such an assurance at the extradition hearing, since the relevant Council of Europe treaty has been in operation for many years.” But the U.S. government did not offer this assurance so it could be tested during the extradition trial and before the judge issued her decision.

“Such a transfer under the specific provisions of the treaty could not take place until the conclusion of the trial and all appellate processes, which are obviously likely to be very prolonged,” the defense replied. “In the meantime, Mr. Assange would be detained in the conditions of isolation identified by the defense expert witnesses—and in any event—in an alien and hostile environment far from his family.”

It was not immediately clear how the High Court responded to the "assurances" put forward by the U.S. government well after the extradition request was litigated in September 2020.

Moris spoke to the press outside the High Court after the decision. She had visited Assange at the Belmarsh high-security prison in the morning.

“The U.S. government should have accepted the magistrates’ court’s decision. Instead, it keeps this case going,” Moris declared.

She contended the case is falling apart because the U.S. Justice Department’s key witness, Siggi Thordarson, “admits he lied in exchange for immunity from U.S. prosecutors.”

“The lawyers of Julian were spied on. Their offices were broken into. Even our six-month-old boy was targeted while he was in the [Ecuador] embassy, and now the High Court has limited the grounds on which they are allowed to appeal,” Moris added.

“It comes as no surprise that the U.K. High Court will consider the U.S. government’s appeal, but Julian Assange should not be in this position in the first place," stated Reporters Without Borders director of international campaigns Rebecca Vincent. "He has been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting, and his prosecution in the U.S. would have severe and long-lasting implications for journalism and press freedom around the world."

"We call again for [President Joe Biden's] administration to drop the appeal and close the case, and for the U.K. to immediately release Assange from prison, where his mental and physical health remain at high risk,” Vincent added.

Moris asserted, “[Attorney General] Merrick Garland has egg on his face because of the decision to use a witness that perjured himself in order to try to imprison Julian and keep him imprisoned.”

Asked about Assange’s condition, Moris shared that he is “very unwell” and described Belmarsh as a horrible place. She mentioned that another prisoner recently committed suicide.

“It’s a daily struggle. He won his case in January. Why is he even in prison? Why is he even being prosecuted? There is no legal case against him,” Moris concluded.