Solidarity with Julian Assange in Barcelona (foto Assemblea Nacional Catalana/ Flickr)
Your Man in the Public Gallery | Assange Hearing Day (3)
In yesterday’s proceedings in court, the prosecution adopted arguments so stark and apparently unreasonable I have been fretting on how to write them up in a way that does not seem like caricature or unfair exaggeration on my part. What has been happening in this court has long moved beyond caricature. All I can do is give you my personal assurance that what I recount actually is what happened.
As usual, I shall deal with procedural matters and Julian’s treatment first, before getting in to a clear account of the legal arguments made.
Vanessa Baraitser is under a clear instruction to mimic concern by asking, near the end of every session just before we break anyway, if Julian is feeling well and whether he would like a break. She then routinely ignores his response. Yesterday he replied at some length he could not hear properly in his glass box and could not communicate with his lawyers (at some point yesterday they had started preventing him passing notes to his counsel, which I learn was the background to the aggressive prevention of his shaking Garzon’s hand goodbye).
Baraitser insisted he might only be heard through his counsel, which given he was prevented from instructing them was a bit rich. This being pointed out, we had a ten minute adjournment while Julian and his counsel were allowed to talk down in the cells – presumably where they could be more conveniently bugged yet again.
On return, Edward Fitzgerald made a formal application for Julian to be allowed to sit beside his lawyers in the court. Julian was “a gentle, intellectual man” and not a terrorist. Baraitser replied that releasing Assange from the dock into the body of the court would mean he was released from custody. To achieve that would require an application for bail.
Again, the prosecution counsel James Lewis intervened on the side of the defence to try to make Julian’s treatment less extreme. He was not, he suggested diffidently, quite sure that it was correct that it required bail for Julian to be in the body of the court, or that being in the body of the court accompanied by security officers meant that a prisoner was no longer in custody. Prisoners, even the most dangerous of terrorists, gave evidence from the witness box in the body of the court nest to the lawyers and magistrate. In the High Court prisoners frequently sat with their lawyers in extradition hearings, in extreme cases of violent criminals handcuffed to a security officer.
Baraitser replied that Assange might pose a danger to the public. It was a question of health and safety. How did Fitzgerald and Lewis think that she had the ability to carry out the necessary risk assessment? It would have to be up to Group 4 to decide if this was possible.
Yes, she really did say that. Group 4 would have to decide.
Baraitser started to throw out jargon like a Dalek when it spins out of control. “Risk assessment” and “health and safety” featured a lot. She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade. “No jurisdiction” – “Up to Group 4”. Recovering slightly, she stated firmly that delivery to custody can only mean delivery to the dock of the court, nowhere else in the room. If the defence wanted him in the courtroom where he could hear proceedings better, they could only apply for bail and his release from custody in general. She then peered at both barristers in the hope this would have sat them down, but both were still on their feet.
In his diffident manner (which I confess is growing on me) Lewis said “the prosecution is neutral on this request, of course but, err, I really don’t think that’s right”. He looked at her like a kindly uncle whose favourite niece has just started drinking tequila from the bottle at a family party.
Baraitser concluded the matter by stating that the Defence should submit written arguments by 10 AM tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.
The day had begun with a very angry Magistrate Baraitser addressing the public gallery. Yesterday, she said, a photo had been taken inside the courtroom. It was a criminal offence to take or attempt to take photographs inside the courtroom. Vanessa Baraitser looked at this point very keen to lock someone up. She also seemed in her anger to be making the unfounded assumption that whoever took the photo from the public gallery on Tuesday was still there on Wednesday; I suspect not. Being angry at the public at random must be very stressful for her. I suspect she shouts a lot on trains.
Ms Baraitser is not fond of photography – she appears to be the only public figure in Western EUrope with no photo on the internet. Indeed the average proprietor of a rural car wash has left more evidence of their existence and life history on the internet than Vanessa Baraitser. Which is no crime on her part, but I suspect the expunging is not achieved without considerable effort. Somebody suggested to me she might be a hologram, but I think not. Holograms have more empathy.
I was amused by the criminal offence of attempting to take photos in the courtroom. How incompetent would you need to be to attempt to take a photo and fail to do so? And if no photo was taken, how do they prove you were attempting to take one, as opposed to texting your mum? I suppose “attempting to take a photo” is a crime that could catch somebody arriving with a large SLR, tripod and several mounted lighting boxes, but none of those appeared to have made it into the public gallery.
Baraitser did not state whether it was a criminal offence to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom (or indeed to attempt to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom). I suspect it is. Anyway Le Grand Soir has published a translation of my report yesterday, and there you can see a photo of Julian in his bulletproof glass anti terrorist cage. Not, I hasten to add, taken by me.
We now come to the consideration of yesterday’s legal arguments on the extradition request itself. Fortunately, these are basically fairly simple to summarise, because although we had five hours of legal disquisition, it largely consisted of both sides competing in citing scores of “authorities”, e.g. dead judges, to endorse their point of view, and thus repeating the same points continually with little value from exegesis of the innumerable quotes.
As prefigured yesterday by magistrate Baraitser, the prosecution is arguing that Article 4.1 of the UK – US extradition treaty has no force in law.
Article 4 Political and Military Offenses (foto AHT)
The UK and US Governments say that the court enforces domestic law, not international law, and therefore the treaty has no standing. This argument has been made to the court in written form to which I do not have access. But from discussion in court it was plain that the prosecution argue that the Extradition Act of 2003, under which the court is operating, makes no exception for political offences. All previous Extradition Acts had excluded extradition for political offences, so it must be the intention of the sovereign parliament that political offenders can now be extradited.
Opening his argument, Edward Fitzgerald QC argued that the Extradition Act of 2003 alone is not enough to make an actual extradition. The extradition requires two things in place; the general Extradition Act and the Extradition Treaty with the country or countries concerned. “No Treaty, No Extradition” was an unbreakable rule. The Treaty was the very basis of the request. So to say that the extradition was not governed by the terms of the very treaty under which it was made, was to create a legal absurdity and thus an abuse of process. He cited examples of judgements made by the House of Lords and Privy Council where treaty rights were deemed enforceable despite the lack of incorporation into domestic legislation, particularly in order to stop people being extradited to potential execution from British colonies.
Fitzgerald pointed out that while the Extradition Act of 2003 did not contain a bar on extraditions for political offences, it did not state there could not be such a bar in extradition treaties. And the extradition treaty of 2007 was ratified after the 2003 extradition act.
At this stage Baraitser interrupted that it was plain the intention of parliament was that there could be extradition for political offences. Otherwise they would not have removed the bar in previous legislation. Fitzgerald declined to agree, saying the Act did not say extradition for political offences could not be banned by the treaty enabling extradition.
Fitzgerald then continued to say that international jurisprudence had accepted for a century or more that you did not extradite political offenders. No political extradition was in the EUropean Convention on Extradition, the Model United Nations Extradition Treaty and the Interpol Convention on Extradition. It was in every single one of the United States’ extradition treaties with other countries, and had been for over a century, at the insistence of the United States. For both the UK and US Governments to say it did not apply was astonishing and would set a terrible precedent that would endanger dissidents and potential political prisoners from China, RUssia and regimes all over the world who had escaped to third countries.
Fitzgerald stated that all major authorities agreed there were two types of political offence. The pure political offence and the relative political offence. A “pure” political offence was defined as treason, espionage or sedition. A “relative” political offence was an act which was normally criminal, like assault or vandalism, conducted with a political motive. Every one of the charges against Assange was a “pure” political offence. All but one were espionage charges, and the computer misuse charge had been compared by the prosecution to breach of the official secrets act to meet the dual criminality test. The overriding accusation that Assange was seeking to harm the political and military interests of the United States was in the very definition of a political offence in all the authorities.
In reply Lewis stated that a treaty could not be binding in English law unless specifically incorporated in English law by Parliament. This was a necessary democratic defence. Treaties were made by the executive which could not make law. This went to the sovereignty of Parliament. Lewis quoted many judgements stating that international treaties signed and ratified by the UK could not be enforced in British courts. “It may come as a surprise to other countries that their treaties with the British government can have no legal force” he joked.
Lewis said there was no abuse of process here and thus no rights were invoked under the EUropean Convention. It was just the normal operation of the law that the treaty provision on no extradition for political offences had no legal standing.
Lewis said that the US government disputes that Assange’s offences are political. In the UK – Australia – US there was a different definition of political offence to the rest of the World. We viewed the “pure” political offences of treason, espionage and sedition as not political offences. Only “relative” political offences – ordinary crimes committed with a political motive – were viewed as political offences in our tradition. In this tradition, the definition of “political” was also limited to supporting a contending political party in a state. Lewis will continue with this argument tomorrow.
That concludes my account of proceedings. I have some important commentary to make on this and will try to do another posting later today. Now rushing to court.
With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.
This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.
American Herald Tribune, February 28, 2020
Your Man in the Public Gallery | Assange Hearing Day (4)
Please try this experiment for me.
Try asking this question out loud, in a tone of intellectual interest and engagement: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?”.
Now try asking this question out loud, in a tone of hostility and incredulity bordering on sarcasm: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?”.
Firstly, congratulations on your acting skills; you take direction very well. Secondly, is it not fascinating how precisely the same words can convey the opposite meaning dependent on modulation of stress, pitch, and volume?
Yesterday the prosecution continued its argument that the provision in the 2007 UK – US Extradition Treaty that bars extradition for political offences is a dead letter, and that Julian Assange’s objectives are not political in any event. James Lewis QC for the prosecution spoke for about an hour, and Edward Fitzgerald QC replied for the defence for about the same time. During Lewis’s presentation, he was interrupted by Judge Baraitser precisely once. During Fitzgerald’s reply, Baraitser interjected seventeen times.
In the transcript, those interruptions will not look unreasonable.
“Could you clarify that for me Mr. Fitzgerald (…)”
“So how do you cope with Mr. Lewis’s point that (…)”
“But surely that’s a circular argument (…)”
“But it’s not incorporated, is it? (…)”
All these and the other dozen interruptions were designed to appear to show the judge attempting to clarify the defence’s argument in a spirit of intellectual testing. But if you heard the tone of Baraitser’s voice, saw her body language and facial expressions, it was anything but.
The false picture a transcript might give is exacerbated by the courtly Fitzgerald’s continually replying to each obvious harassment with “Thank you Madam, that is very helpful”, which again if you were there, plainly meant the opposite. But what a transcript will helpfully nevertheless show was the bully pulpit of Baraitser’s tactic in interrupting Fitzgerald again and again and again, belittling his points and very deliberately indeed preventing him from getting into the flow of his argument. The contrast in every way with her treatment of Lewis could not be more pronounced.
So now to report the legal arguments themselves.
James Lewis for the prosecution, continuing his arguments from the day before, said that Parliament had not included a bar on extradition for political offences in the 2003 Act. It could therefore not be reintroduced into law by a treaty. “To introduce a Political Offences bar by the back door would be to subvert the intention of Parliament.”
Lewis also argued that these were not political offences. The definition of a political offence was in the UK limited to behaviour intended “to overturn or change a government or induce it to change its policy.” Furthermore the aim must be to change government or policy in the short term, not the indeterminate future.
Lewis stated that further the term “political offence” could only be applied to offences committed within the territory where it was attempted to make the change. So to be classified as political offences, Assange would have had to commit them within the territory of the USA, but he did not.
If Baraitser did decide the bar on political offences applied, the court would have to determine the meaning of “political offence” in the UK – US Extradition Treaty and construe the meaning of paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 of the Treaty. To construe the terms of an international treaty was beyond the powers of the court.
Lewis perorated that the conduct of Julian Assange cannot possibly be classified as a political offence. “It is impossible to place Julian Assange in the position of a political refugee”. The activity in which WikiLeaks was engaged was not in its proper meaning political opposition to the US Administration or an attempt to overthrow that administration. Therefore the offence was not political.
For the defence Edward Fitzgerald replied that the 2003 Extradition Act was an enabling act under which treaties could operate. Parliament had been concerned to remove any threat of abuse of the political offence bar to cover terrorist acts of violence against innocent civilians. But there remained a clear protection, accepted Worldwide, for peaceful political dissent. This was reflected in the Extradition Treaty on the basis of which the court was acting.
Baraitser interrupted that the UK – US Extradition Treaty was not incorporated into English Law.
Fitzgerald replied that the entire extradition request is on the basis of the treaty. It is an abuse of process for the authorities to rely on the treaty for the application but then to claim that its provisions do not apply.
“On the face of it, it is a very bizarre argument that a treaty which gives rise to the extradition, on which the extradition is founded, can be disregarded in its provisions. It is on the face of it absurd.”
Edward Fitzgerald QC for the Defence
Fitzgerald added that English Courts construe treaties all the time. He gave examples.
Fitzgerald went on that the defence did not accept that treason, espionage and sedition were not regarded as political offences in England. But even if one did accept Lewis’s too narrow definition of political offence, Assange’s behaviour still met the test. What on earth could be the motive of publishing evidence of government War crimes and corruption, other than to change the policy of the government? Indeed, the evidence would prove that WikiLeaks had effectively changed the policy of the US government, particularly on Iraq.
Baraitser interjected that to expose government wrongdoing was not the same thing as to try to change government policy. Fitzgerald asked her, finally in some exasperation after umpteen interruptions, what other point could there be in exposing government wrongdoing other than to induce a change in government policy?
That concluded opening arguments for the prosecution and defence.
MY PERSONAL COMMENTARY
Let me put this as neutrally as possible. If you could fairly state that Lewis’s argument was much more logical, rational and intuitive than Fitzgerald’s, you could understand why Lewis did not need an interruption while Fitzgerald had to be continually interrupted for “clarification”. But in fact it was Lewis who was making out the case that the provisions of the very treaty under which the extradition is being made, do not in fact apply, a logical step which I suggest the man on the Clapham omnibus might reason to need rather more testing than Fitzgerald’s assertion to the contrary. Baraitser’s comparative harassment of Fitzgerald when he had the prosecution on the ropes was straight out of the Stalin show trial playbook.
The defence did not mention it, and I do not know if it features in their written arguments, but I thought Lewis’s point that these could not be political offences, because Julian Assange was not in the USA when he committed them, was breathtakingly dishonest. The USA claims universal jurisdiction. Assange is being charged with crimes of publishing committed while he was outside the USA. The USA claims the right to charge anyone of any nationality, anywhere in the world, who harms US interests. They also in addition here claim that as the materials could be seen on the internet in the USA, there was an offence in the USA. At the same time to claim this could not be a political offence as the crime was committed outside the USA is, as Edward Fitzgerald might say, on the face of it absurd. Which curiously Baraitser did not pick up on.
Lewis’s argument that the Treaty does not have any standing in English law is not something he just made up. Nigel Farage did not materialise from nowhere. There is in truth a long tradition in English law that even a treaty signed and ratified with some bloody Johnny Foreigner country, can in no way bind an English court. Lewis could and did spout reams and reams of judgements from old beetroot faced judges holding forth to say exactly that in the House of Lords, before going off to shoot grouse and spank the footman’s son. Lewis was especially fond of the Tin Council case.
There is of course a contrary and more enlightened tradition, and a number of judgements that say the exact opposite, mostly more recent. This is why there was so much repetitive argument as each side piled up more and more volumes of “authorities” on their side of the case.
The difficulty for Lewis – and for Baraitser – is that this case is not analogous to me buying a Mars bar and then going to court because an International Treaty on Mars Bars says mine is too small.
Rather the 2003 Extradition Act is an Enabling Act on which extradition treaties then depend. You can’t thus extradite under the 2003 Act without the Treaty. So the Extradition Treaty of 2007 in a very real sense becomes an executive instrument legally required to authorise the extradition. For the executing authorities to breach the terms of the necessary executive instrument under which they are acting, simply has to be an abuse of process. So the Extradition Treaty owing to its type and its necessity for legal action, is in fact incorporated in English Law by the Extradition Act of 2003 on which it depends.
The Extradition Treaty is a necessary precondition of the extradition, whereas a Mars Bar Treaty is not a necessary precondition to buying the Mars Bar.
That is as plain as I can put it. I do hope that is comprehensible.
It is of course difficult for Lewis that on the same day the Court of Appeal was ruling against the construction of the Heathrow Third Runway, partly because of its incompatibility with the Paris Agreement of 2016, despite the latter not being fully incorporated into English law by the Climate Change Act of 2008.
VITAL PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
It is intensely embarrassing for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) when an English court repudiates the application of a treaty the UK has ratified with one or more foreign states. For that reason, in the modern World, very serious procedures and precautions have been put into place to make certain that this cannot happen. Therefore the prosecution’s argument that all the provisions of the UK – US Extradition Treaty of 2007 are not able to be implemented under the Extradition Act of 2003, ought to be impossible.
I need to explain I have myself negotiated and overseen the entry into force of treaties within the FCO. The last one in which I personally tied the ribbon and applied the sealing wax (literally) was the Anglo – Belgian Continental Shelf Treaty of 1991, but I was involved in negotiating others and the system I am going to describe was still in place when I left the FCO as an Ambassador in 2005, and I believe is unchanged today (and remember the Extradition Act was 2003 and the US – UK Extradition Treaty ratified 2007, so my knowledge is not outdated). Departmental nomenclatures change from time to time and so does structural organisation. But the offices and functions I will describe remain, even if names may be different.
All international treaties have a two stage process. First they are signed to show the government agrees to the treaty. Then, after a delay, they are ratified. This second stage takes place when the government has enabled the legislation and other required agency to implement the treaty. This is the answer to Lewis’s observation about the roles of the executive and legislature. The ratification stage only takes place after any required legislative action. That is the whole point.
This is how it happens in the FCO. Officials negotiate the extradition treaty. It is signed for the UK. The signed treaty then gets returned to FCO Legal Advisers, Nationality and Treaty Department, Consular Department, North American Department and others and is sent on to Treasury – Cabinet Office Solicitors and to Home Office, Parliament and to any other Government Department whose area is impacted by the individual treaty.
The Treaty is extensively vetted to check that it can be fully implemented in all the jurisdictions of the UK. If it cannot, then amendments to the law have to be made so that it can. These amendments can be made by Act of Parliament or more generally by secondary legislation using powers conferred on the Secretary of State by an act. If there is already an Act of Parliament under which the Treaty can be implemented, then no enabling legislation needs to be passed. International Agreements are not all individually incorporated into English or Scottish laws by specific new legislation.
This is a very careful step by step process, carried out by lawyers and officials in the FCO, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office, Parliament and elsewhere. Each will in parallel look at every clause of the Treaty and check that it can be applied. All changes needed to give effect to the treaty then have to be made – amending legislation, and necessary administrative steps. Only when all hurdles have been cleared, including legislation, and Parliamentary officials, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office and FCO all certify that the Treaty is capable of having effect in the UK, will the FCO Legal Advisers give the go ahead for the Treaty to be ratified. You absolutely cannot ratify the treaty before FCO Legal Advisers have given this clearance.
This is a serious process. That is why the US – UK Extradition Treaty was signed in 2003 and ratified in 2007. That is not an abnormal delay.
So I know for certain that ALL the relevant British Government legal departments MUST have agreed that Article 4.1 of the UK – US Extradition Treaty was capable of being given effect under the 2003 Extradition Act. That certification has to have happened or the Treaty could never have been ratified.
It follows of necessity that the UK Government, in seeking to argue now that Article 4.1 is incompatible with the 2003 Act, is knowingly lying. There could not be a more gross abuse of process.
I have been keen for the hearing on this particular point to conclude so that I could give you the benefit of my experience. I shall rest there for now, but later today hope to post further on yesterday’s row in court over releasing Julian from the anti terrorist armoured dock.
With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. I wish to stress again that I absolutely do not want anybody to give anything if it causes them the slightest possibility of financial strain.
This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.
American Herald Tribune, February 28, 2020