THE United States’ attempted extradition of Julian Assange is politically motivated and illegal, the High Court heard today.

The final trial against sending the Wikileaks founder and journalist, who was too unwell to attend court or even participate by video link, to the US began today.

Those close to him report growing concern over his health since he broke a rib during a coughing fit over Christmas.

In court, Edward Fitzgerald KC said that Mr Assange’s potential rendition depends on his being denied a centuries-old legal protection and that when former home secretary Priti Patel authorised the extradition, she had failed to establish that he would not be subject to the death penalty in the US, as the law requires.

The two-day hearing in London’s Royal Courts of Justice is considering Mr Assange’s application to appeal against the dismissal of most of his case that he should not be extradited, which was heard in 2020.

Should this application fail, Mr Assange will face 17 charges in the US under the Espionage Act and one for computer hacking. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 175 years.

If this week’s application succeeds, a full appeal will be heard later in the year.

At the original extradition hearings, Mr Fitzgerald, who leads Mr Assange’s legal team, insisted that the Britain-US Extradition Treaty rules out the possibility of extradition on political grounds.

The US representative James Lewis KC argued that notwithstanding the wording of the treaty, rights could be granted only by an Act of Parliament.

Today, Mr Fitzgerald argued that protection from extradition on political grounds features in British treaties over a period of centuries.

“This right cannot be removed simply because a subsequent Act of Parliament is silent on the subject,” he said.

Mark Summers KC, also for Mr Assange, told the court that the judge who heard the original case had paid insufficient attention to the CIA plot against Mr Assange.

He said that former president Donald Trump requested detailed options to kill Mr Assange and the CIA developed a plan to do so.

But British government ministers felt queasy about an unlawful extradition, or holding Mr Assange in a “black site,” he said.

Mr Summers spent much of the afternoon arguing that the case contained much of legitimate interest to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

His overarching point was that in dismissing these arguments at the first hearing, Judge Vanessa Baraitser had paid insufficient attention to this possibility.

“These [Wikileaks] revelations have brought about significant change — they contributed to revisions of the rules of conflict, and the end of the Iraq war,” he said.

“It is hard to imagine a case where the public interest was greater.”

That they had this impact and were leaked in good faith would give the Strasbourg court an interest in the case, he argued.

Application for the case to be considered by the ECHR has been made, but such hearings are at the discretion of that court, and the overwhelming majority of applications are dismissed without a hearing.

The case is being heard by Judges Dame Victoria Sharp and Victor Johnson and continues on Wednesday.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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