Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: U.K. Judges Undermine Legal Proceedings

In less than two weeks, Julian Assange will face the remainder of his extradition hearing after it was put on hold for six months due to Covid-19. However, is anyone holding their breath for a positive outcome after the U.K. has acted as a U.S. patsy for the past ten years? In 2012, Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he remained for over seven years after being granted political asylum. During that time, Swedish prosecutors conspired with the U.K. government to keep an investigation and arrest warrant for Assange open and valid for as long as possible with the hopes of having him extradited.

And despite two UN rulings that Assange was being arbitrarily detained and the Swedish investigation eventually being closed, neither of these events stopped the United States and Ecuador from carrying out gross violations of international law. Nor did it stop the U.K. judicial system which is clearly working at the behest of the U.S. government from terrorizing Assange with years of shameless injustice.

Lady Arbuthnot

In September 2016, Lady Emma Arbuthnot was appointed Senior District Judge and Chief Magistrate at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the “advice” of Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. If you’re not familiar with the very characters who installed Arbuthnot in a position of power over Assange’s life, let’s start with Truss who was attacked a year after Arbuthnot’s appointment for failing “in her duty” to “stand up for the judiciary, prompting claims of a conflict of interest with her other job as secretary of state.”

“Ms Truss holds both offices as a result of changes initiated by Tony Blair and brought in in 2007 which removed the Lord Chancellor role from a Judge and made it into a political appointment.” 

Other criticisms against Truss have included her handling of prison staffing numbers and “confusion over whether rape victims would be allowed to give evidence via video-link.” One colleague described her as a “very inexperienced politician with no legal experience” so why exactly did she hold the position of Lord Chancellor until June 2017? For anyone keeping track at home she actually only held the position for a year and maybe now we know why. She’s currently U.K. Secretary of State for International Trade.

As for Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, before retiring he was the most senior judge in the United Kingdom and the same High Court judge who refused Assange’s appeal against extradition to Sweden. I mean, look at this guy. The U.K. cannot possibly be serious with this type of porridge-stuffed wigged monkey act.

Thomas retired as Lord Chief Justice in October 2017, one month after Arbuthnot’s appointment.

Arbuthnot’s Conflicts of Interest

With regard to Arbuthnot’s own history of judicial decision making, before sitting on Assange’s extradition case she ruled against his application to dismiss the Swedish arrest warrant despite the fact that Sweden had already closed their investigation. Read that again. She ruled that an arrest warrant for a non-existent case was still valid. Let that sink in.

“[Arbuthnot] rejected the findings of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention…that Assange was being ‘arbitrarily detained’, characterised Assange’s stay in the embassy as ‘voluntary’ and concluded Assange’s health and mental state was of minor importance.”

This is the same woman who said Assange should have hung out on the Ecuadorian embassy’s balcony a little more often to catch some rays because why worry about that silly drone issue? And that’s just the start of the U.K. court system’s most recent and outrageous decisions and irregularities. Arbuthnot initially presided over Assange’s extradition proceedings during which time she refused to recuse herself from the case despite the fact her family is involved in the defense and intelligence industry and linked to a “former head of M16 who oversaw the ‘sexed-up’ dossier that led to the Iraq War.” She’s also benefited from multiple companies that were exposed by WikiLeaks: 

“At a time when Lady Arbuthnot was in her former position as a district judge in Westminster, she personally benefited from funding together with her husband from two sources which were exposed by WikiLeaks in its document releases.”

More from The Canary

“…at the same time Lady [Emma] Arbuthnot was presiding over Assange’s legal case, the judge’s husband [Lord James Arbuthnot], was holding talks with senior officials in Turkey, exposed by WikiLeaks, some of whom have an interest in punishing Assange and the WikiLeaks organisation.”

The Canary also reported that up until February 2019, James Arbuthnot was an advisor to a military corporation whose board members include the former head of the GCHQ and that he was a member of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee from 2001-2006. The list goes on:

“He is also currently an officer of the all party parliamentary group on cybersecurity which is administered by the Information Security Group (ISG) at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

He is also a former member of the national security strategy joint committee and the armed forces bill committee.”

“Vitruvian Partners, the employer of Arbuthnot’s son Alexander, has a multimillion-pound investment in cybersecurity firm Darktrace, whose officials originate from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA.”

No really, the list goes on and on…so if you’re wondering why Arbuthnot ruled in favor of keeping an arrest warrant alive for a case that no longer existed, her and her family’s professional relationships may very well explain it.

Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser

Although Arbuthnot refused to recuse herself from Assange’s case amid objections from his attorneys, it was reported in November 2019 that she was no longer presiding over it. That doesn’t mean, however, she’s been entirely absolved of it. She still has a guiding hand in the hearing’s outcome due to the fact she holds a supervisory role supporting junior judges in her jurisdiction. This includes Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser who is now presiding over the case.

So is Baraitser any better? Hardly. Earlier this year she denied Assange’s request to sit with his attorneys instead of inside a glass box because apparently the U.K. is still channelling the Eichmann trial circa 1961. It’s pretty telling that Assange is being denied this right while the U.K. courts allowed even far-right cockwomble Tommy Robinson to sit with his attorneys after serving twelve months for assaulting a police officer.  According to James Doleman, during his case Robinson “walked up to the press box and called us all a ‘bunch of f*cking liars’ and was still not sent back to the dock.”

In April 2020, Baraitser also denied Assange bail claiming that he was perfectly safe from Covid-19 inside Belmarsh prison rather than say, oh, I don’t know, self-isolating at home. Maybe the prison has a balcony, too. And this, even when U.S. prosecutors themselves don’t show up to court due to the virus, opting to call-in for the proceedings instead.

At this point it’s hardly surprising that weeks after Baraitser’s decision, the U.K. courts granted bail to Alevtina Kalashnikova, a Russian airline boss who allegedly stole over 212 million rubles between 2014 and 2017, while working at VIM airlines. And yes, that decision took place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the same court where both Arbuthnot and Baraitser have both carried out egregious miscarriages of justice against Assange.

Courtroom Shenanigans

Disturbing, in no uncertain terms, properly describes the extent of shenanigans that have taken place during virtually every hearing Assange has had so far since his arrest in April 2019. During the first week of his extradition hearing in February 2020, the microphones in the courtroom were not working properly so he was unable to hear what was happening in his own case. Additionally, Baraitser made it virtually impossible for Assange to confer with his legal counsel ultimately appearing indifferent to the matter. Whether or not she’s crippling his right to defend himself out of spite or she’s being pressured to undermine him remains unknown.

Additionally, it was reported that officials from the U.S. Department of Justice were seen in the courtroom actually advising U.K. prosecutors during the proceedings.

Things haven’t improved since February nor should anyone expect them to which is why it was vitally important that an anti-fascist, anti-grifting working class movement in support of Assange should have been organized two years ago rather than building on campaigns that pander to the very system depriving a journalist of his life and liberty and threatening a free press worldwide.  According to Monika Karbowska who travelled from France to the U.K. to attend Assange’s last hearing two weeks ago, what should have been a serious judicial proceeding was yet again another day at “nursery school” or as MintPress News reported “kangaroo court.”

One of the issues at hand was the fact that the U.S. has filed a replacement indictment against Assange which apparently he nor his attorneys have even seen yet. I’m no legal expert but wouldn’t this mean he’s being held in a high-security prison for alleged crimes he hasn’t even been arrested for yet? MintPress News:

“Proceedings were held up this morning so Assange could converse for the first time in five months with his legal team. The prosecution team failed to turn up at the hearing because they were told events started at 3:30 p.m. Only five members of the press were allowed to enter the courtroom to monitor proceedings. Other journalists, observers, and NGOs attempting to listen via telephone could not, as they were given the number to another courtroom. One journalist who did make it inside claimed that the judge, Vanessa Baraitser, was, ‘clearly reading from a pre-written ruling.’”

Although it was reported that Assange didn’t look well and coughed repeatedly throughout the hearing, a sliver of hope was found in Monika’s reporting as she recalled her experience:

“The whole room respects the ceremony and stands up. Then almost everyone in the room has their backs turned and puts their things away. But I realize that Julian Assange is still here and I’m staying, as always, until his final departure…When the audience doesn’t really pay attention to him anymore, Julian Assange raises his fist! So I raise my arm and my fist too! I look at him! Some activists will tell me, ‘But he can’t see you.’ I say, ‘Maybe someone will tell him we’re here. He saw us in January and February. He knows we’re here.’”

Keeping this report in mind, we should be optimistic that Assange is fairing well under the circumstances but rest assured there will be no due process for him, no fair hearing, and a mountain of human rights violations committed against him during this process at the hands of two U.K. judges who are a complete and utter disgrace to their profession. He’s been denied the right to prepare a defense, reasonable access to legal documents and his attorneys (who were spied on by the CIA) and frankly, access to his own hearings. Worse, not only does the U.S. have millions to spend on this case which has been accurately dubbed David v. Goliath, they’ll likely be sending their DOJ legal thugs to court again to coax their European lapdogs along.

The extradition hearing will continue on September 7, 2020.

Featured photo: Lord James and Lady Emma Arbuthnot via WSWS.org

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