Julian Assange’s extradition hearing has been halted over fears a prosecuting lawyer may have been exposed to coronavirus.
The Wikileaks founder, 49, is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets between January and May 2010.
The husband of a junior prosecuting lawyer started suffering ‘Covid-like symptoms’ and is currently awaiting the results of a test, a judge heard at a case management hearing at the Old Bailey.
Washington DC-based attorney Eric Lewis was due to testify today but District Judge Vanessa Baraitser excused him and called the hearing instead.
Julian Assange (pictured in 2017), 49, is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets
Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for Assange, said: ‘I have had the opportunity to speak to Mr Assange and Mr Lewis and we respectfully invite you not to go ahead until they have had a (test) result.
‘We have to move ahead on the assumption they have Covid.
‘Firstly, we shouldn’t really be here today. Covid would be here in the court room and it is not possible to tell how far it has extended.’
He added that there were members of the team who were in a high risk category – meaning they would likely suffer severe symptoms if exposed to Covid.
‘Our client Mr Assange – whose vulnerabilities you are aware of – would be at risk because we have had to consult with him,’ he said.
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Assange protest outside the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court ahead of a hearing to decide whether Assange should be extradited to the United States, in London yesterday
‘We reached a principle decision some time ago that this hearing shouldn’t continue in the present circumstances.
‘Trying to conduct this in a remote way would not be fair or appropriate.
‘If the lawyer is negative we can carry on. If it is positive we can make submissions to you then.’
James Lewis, for the US government, appeared on the virtual link from his London flat.
He said: ‘We agree with Mr Fitzgerald it would be best if we adjourn until Monday to know whether or not the test is positive.
Washington DC-based attorney Eric Lewis was due to testify today but District Judge Vanessa Baraitser excused him and called the hearing instead. Pictured, Assange’s partner Stella Moris and Assange’s lawyer arriving at the Old Bailey yesterday
‘We are having a number of technical difficulties. All I can see is the back of Mr Fitzgerald’s jacket frozen in mid-air and it is completely unsatisfactory to deal with it in that way.’
Judge Baraitser said she was told last night that one of the barristers in the case could have been exposed to coronavirus.
She added: ‘I’m told it is anticipated that the testing process will take place today and the outcome will be known at some time tomorrow.
‘I had intended to take matters one step at a time and to manage tomorrow’s hearing over the video-link but I hear the objections now from both sides against that course of action.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s father John Shipton spoke to reporters outside the Old Bailey in London yesterday
‘Can I make it clear if I accede to the request that does not indicate I have made an interest of justice decision going forward about attendance of parties attending by CVP in the future.
‘I accept the hearing should be postponed until the outcome is known.
‘I’m willing to accede for the time being to adjourn this case until Monday at 10am.’
Mr Lewis was due to tell the court about Assange’s likely pre-trial conditions, sentence and place of imprisonment in the US should he be extradited and convicted.
The lawyer was to join professors Paul Rogers and Mark Feldstein, as well as Reprieve founder Clive Stafford Smith and journalist Trevor Timm in arguing the prosecution is politically motivated.
A supporter of Assange ties a US flag to a lamp post outside the Old Bailey. A US grand jury indicted Assange on 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act
The attorney would also have attested to the difficulties of preparing a legal defence among a swathe of classified evidence, the document said.
He will instead be first up to give evidence on Monday morning should the hearing go ahead.
A US grand jury indicted Assange on 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act.
He is accused of publishing un-redacted US government documents and faces a maximum 175-year prison sentence if convicted.
The four week extradition hearing at the Old Bailey – sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court continues on Monday.