Assange’s 12-minute hearing presents a grim picture of judicial indifference

Assange’s legal team denounced a series of irregularities in his preliminary hearing held on January 13 and expressed concern over his health

January 15, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Assange update
A visibly pale and weak Assange being cordoned off from the court premises on Monday. (Photo: Ruptly)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting a legal battle against his extradition to the United States, will only be given an hour to review the evidence that will be presented by the  prosecution against him in the next hearing scheduled on January 23. This was announced by judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in a preliminary hearing on January 13, Monday, that went on for barely 12 minutes. The judge also asked the defense to register a complaint against the Belmarsh prison authorities, where Assange is being held, for not allowing sufficient time for him to meet with his legal team.

In the ongoing trial which has been mired in controversies, Assange’s defense team, led by Gareth Pierce, has been effectively denied a proper hearing before the court. The hearing on Monday was wrapped up in under 12 minutes on the pretext that there was a backlog of cases to be heard that day. Speaking to the media, Assange’s lawyers further stated that the hearing was originally scheduled for January 14, Tuesday, but was moved a day ahead at the last minute. Due to this, Assange’s defense team was not able to request for a meeting with him at Belmarsh on Tuesday, given that it was originally scheduled as the date of the hearing.

The defense also complained that since the last hearing on December 19, only two hours have been allotted so far for Assange to meet with his defense team. While it was argued that such restrictions violate the defendant’s rights as a prisoner, the judge did not take this into cognizance and scheduled the next hearing for January 23, when the evidence against Assange will be presented in court. 

The defense has also stated that they will look into the option of a judicial review over the prison authority’s refusal to allow Assange more time with his defense lawyers. Pierce pointed out that there are “volumes” of submitted exhibits and arguments from the several hearings that have already taken place, and that the defense could only barely begin discussing them with their client due to the lack of adequate time. “It is a breach of a defendant’s rights,” Pierce told the media.

The defense also expressed dismay over being given only an hour with Assange before he was taken back to Belmarsh following the hearing on Monday. Prison authorities have also reportedly allowed only an hour for Assange and his legal team to meet before the next hearing. Pierce claimed that “this has set us back on our timetable enormously.”

Wikileaks ambassador Joseph Farrell, while speaking to media outside the court on Monday, said, “Julian [Assange] has had extremely poor access to his lawyers. The reason he was brought here in person was that after the hearing he would be able to stay and work through the evidence, at least pieces of it, with his lawyers. (…) The idea that somebody doesn’t have access to their lawyers when they’re facing a life sentence, when they have 175 years [in prison] ahead of them, when the prosecution has had 10 years to mount the hardest case that they have with unlimited resources, and for somebody to have three hours with their lawyers in order to sign off on their future, it’s unacceptable.”

Few dozen supporters of Assange held a demonstration outside the court premises while the hearing took place on Monday. The protesters were joined in by British rapper and celebrity Mathangi Arulpragasam, more commonly known by her stage name MIA. After the proceedings ended, protesters raised concerns about the little time Assange was given to prepare for the case and the manner in which the hearing was conducted.

Assange will appear next in court on January 23, before the full extradition trial begins on February 25. The trial will decide whether or not he is to be extradited to stand trial in the US on multiple federal charges of espionage, that may carry a total of 175 years of maximum prison sentence.