UK court allows US to expand grounds of appeal against Assange; family raises concerns

The new and expanded appeal will have prosecutors representing the United States challenge medical assessments by an expert witness that were the grounds to deny extradition of the Wikileaks founder

August 13, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: Cancillería del Ecuador via Wikimedia Commons

A British high court has allowed for prosecutors representing the United States to expand the grounds of appeal against a lower court’s ruling on the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. On August 11, Wednesday, the decision reversed the earlier decision by the high court in London when it permitted the prosecution to appeal against the extradition ruling by district judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Magistrates’ Court.

Earlier this year, judge Baraitser turned down a US extradition request because it would be “unjust or oppressive by reason of a person’s health,” with expert testimonials finding him to be a suicide risk.

The recent decision made by lord justice Timothy Holroyde and justice Judith Farbey of the high court reversed the decision by Jonathan Swift, allowing the prosecution to challenge the reliability of the evidence presented by psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman. The newly expanded grounds of appeal are based on Kopelman initially withholding information about Assange’s engagement to Stella Moris and his two children until their relationship was made public.

Justice Swift’s decision granted limited permission to the prosecution to appeal on three of the five grounds allowing them to challenge whether Judge Baraitser had erred in not extraditing Assange based on medical assessments and not giving the US enough time to respond to her provisional view. Swift had then denied permission to appeal on grounds that Kopelman’s evidence was inadmissible and that judge Baraitser made an overall error of judgment in her ruling.

According to The Dissenter, the prosecution argued that Kopelman’s assessments submitted as evidence to the court were inadmissible because he allegedly “misled” the court. Kopelman’s assessments, along with that of Quinton Deeley, were taken as the prime evidence by judge Baraitser in concluding that Assange is a suicide risk in the event of imminent extradition because he falls within the autism spectrum.

The prosecution also argued that the district judge gave more weight to Kopelman’s and Deeley’s assessments and not enough to expert witnesses presented by the prosecution that found Assange being neither on the autism spectrum nor a suicide risk. They also argued that the judge gave weight to Kopelman’s assessments despite admitting to having withheld information about Moris and their children.

On the other hand, the defense argued that Kopelman had consulted with defense attorneys representing Assange about Moris and his children and did so for “human predicament.” Assange, who spoke from Belmarsh prison, told Fitzgerald that “expert witness has a legal obligation to protect people from harm.” The defense also argued that there were concerns of privacy and “very real fears and concerns” about the surveillance by UC Global.

UC Global (Undercover Global SL), a Spanish defense contractor, is currently being investigated by Spain’s High Court for its ties with the US. It was revealed in 2019 that the company had conducted extensive surveillance on Assange while he was held at the Ecuadorian embassy in London along with his lawyers, colleagues, and family members.

Defense attorney, Edward Fitzgerald, told the court that the decision to disclose the names of Moris and the two children was deferred until further legal consultations and that there was “no tactical advantage being gained.” Kopelman had disclosed the relationship in August 2020, once Moris came out to campaign for Assange’s release. Judge Baraitser herself had stated that the court was made aware of the situation as early as April 2020, “before it had read the medical evidence or heard evidence on this issue.”

The defense also reminded the high court that judge Baraitser herself ruled that Kopelman did not fail in his “duty to the court” for not disclosing information about Moris and that while it was “misleading and inappropriate in the context of his obligations to the court, but an understandable human response to Ms. Moris’s predicament.”

Stella Moris responding to the decision today, raised concerns about constant threats and intimidation. “The judges today said that the court will … allow the factual evidence to be argued,” Moris declared. “What has not been discussed today is why I fear for my safety and the safety of our children and Julian’s life.”

Moris also added that there have been “constant threats and intimidation” against Assange and their family and raised concerns about continued prosecution and imprisonment. “Julian won the case against the US seven months ago, yet he remains in Belmarsh prison. What is this if not punishment by process?” she told the press outside the courthouse.

Kevin Gosztola of The Dissenter, who reported live from the hearing, tweeted that the US “has prevailed in this first hearing, and it seems will have an even wider ambit to challenge the district judge’s decision.” The date for the hearing of the final appeal has been set for October 27 and 28.

Assange is facing an appeal against judge Baraitser’s decision to deny the US extradition request and is being held at the high-security Belmarsh prison without charge. If extradited, Assange will be facing a federal indictment in the US for publishing classified documents exposing US war crimes and snooping. With 17 charges of the Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Assange faces a total maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

(With inputs from The Dissenter)

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