Assange Extradition Case Delayed To At Least September

By Richard Crump
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Law360, London (May 4, 2020, 3:05 PM BST) -- The second part of the U.S. attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been delayed until September and will be moved to a different crown court because of coronavirus, a judge in London ruled Monday.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the case will be moved to a new court with better availability because the legal teams on both sides were unable to agree a new date for the three-week hearing in July. The date and venue will be confirmed on Friday.

"It's going to take some negotiation to find a crown court that is open in September, in the current climate, and willing and available to take this hearing," Judge Baraitser said at the hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

Hearings had been due to resume at Woolwich Crown Court in south east London in May. But Judge Baraitser said last week the case could not go ahead as planned amid concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent Assange and lawyers from being able to attend the high-stakes proceedings.

Assange's lawyers claimed at last week's hearing that COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible for them to speak to their client. They said he would have faced a "David and Goliath battle with his hands tied behind his back," unless the case was delayed.

The 48-year-old Australian national is being held at a London prison while fighting extradition to the U.S. to face trial over espionage and computer misuse charges that his lawyers claim carry a total of 175 years' imprisonment.

Assange wanted in the U.S. over allegations that he published hundreds of thousands of classified documents covering U.S. conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and U.S. Department of State cables and files containing assessments of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

He is accused of encouraging leaks by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and of conspiring to hack into the U.S. Department of Defense computer system, in what the U.S. government insists is one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.

The first stage of the extradition hearing took place at Woolwich Crown Court in February over five days where U.S. prosecutors alleged Assange had knowingly endangered American informants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Extraditing Assange would be illegal because the charges are purely political, his lawyers said at the February hearing, arguing that the Anglo-U.S. extradition treaty expressly prohibits extradition for political offenses.

Assange is represented by Edward Fitzgerald QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Mark Summers QC of Matrix Chambers.

The United States of America is represented by James Lewis QC of 3 Raymond Buildings.

The case is United States of America v. Assange, case number 1900802699, in Westminster Magistrates Court.

--Editing by Ed Harris.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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