A UK authority may have just provided the perfect reason for dismissing the US extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
At a 21 October court hearing, Assange’s lawyers made it clear to district judge Vanessa Baraitser that the US extradition request should be denied because of surveillance in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Significantly, that surveillance included the monitoring of privileged client-lawyer discussions.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers QC told the court:
The American state has been actively engaged in intruding into privileged discussions between Mr Assange and his lawyers in the embassy, also unlawful copying of their telephones and computers (and) hooded men breaking into offices
After the court hearing, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson criticised the “grotesque measures” of the US and the “total breach of law” involved:
UK sabotage of justice?
Now, the UK Central Authority (UKCA) has reportedly denied a request by a Spanish court for Assange to testify via video link as a witness against the director of the company that organised the surveillance. That denial shows contempt for and interferes in due legal process. That in turn may be used by Assange’s lawyers as another reason why the extradition case should no longer apply.
According to El País, judge José de la Mata issued a European Investigation Order on 25 September, requesting that Assange be questioned as a witness via videolink in the trial of David Morales, the director of UC Global. That is the company accused of organising the surveillance of the embassy and providing that intelligence directly to the CIA. Morales even installed a video streaming service direct to the US.
Also monitored were meetings between Assange and his lawyers, including Melynda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson, and Baltasar Garzón.
The UKCA representative told the judge that the request was rejected, although he also asked for further clarifying information. On 14 October, de la Mata in turn responded, pointing out that Assange (via his lawyers) had filed a complaint against Morales – so he’s very much party to the case, which is live.
Breach of confidentiality
Apart from the right of a witness – in this case, the victim – to provide testimony, there is the unresolved matter of how client-lawyer confidentiality was breached. Indeed, client-lawyer confidentiality remains a cornerstone of the English legal system. The law in England on this is clear, as indicated by a 2018 judgement in the Court of Appeal. Law Society president Christina Blacklaws commented:
Maintaining confidentiality and trust between a client and their legal adviser is fundamental to our legal system. …
The rule of law depends on all parties being able to seek confidential legal advice without fear of disclosure. That privilege belongs to the client, not the lawyer.
Hrafnsson also commented:
The case should be thrown out immediately. Not only is it illegal on the face of the [extradition] treaty, the U.S. has conducted illegal operations against Assange and his lawyers, which are the subject of a major investigation in Spain.
That the judge in the latest extradition hearing refused to hear pleas by Assange’s lawyers regarding how such confidentiality was breached seemingly indicates bias. Now, such claims of bias may also be levelled against the UK Central Authority. And both cases present more arguments for the extradition case to be thrown out.
Featured image via screenshot