The Wikileaks founder has escaped incarceration in a ‘supermax’ US prison for now but has been denied bail on the grounds of being a flight risk.

Ben Keith Comments in The Times on the recent developments in the case below:

Julian Assange’s epic battle to avoid extradition to the US might succeed after a judge in London ruled that he was highly likely to kill himself if sent to face charges in America.

Authorities in the US said that they will appeal against the ruling — they have a fortnight to do so — but extradition experts on this side of the Atlantic predict that it will be almost impossible to overturn Monday’s judgment. Assange was refused bail yesterday on the grounds that he remains a flight risk while the US appeal is pending.

In her ruling, the district judge Vanessa Baraitser said that she accepted expert evidence that the 49-year-old Wikileaks founder was suffering severe depressive disorder and while in prison had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. The judge heard that Assange had experienced thoughts of self-harm and suicide, and that he had made a confession to a Catholic priest, drafted farewell letters to family and friends, and made a will.

The discharge of Assange on grounds of suicide risk is a decision that will be difficult to appeal, says Ben Keith, a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill chambers in London. Keith said that the US appeal will have to contend with the fact that Judge Baraitser heard significant evidence about Assange’s mental health and the conditions that he was likely to be held in if extradited to the US.

“The test in a suicide risk case is a very high one which is only passed if the individual is likely to commit suicide not because they threaten to do so but because they are so unwell as to be unable to be stopped,” Keith says.

The judge made that ruling after she found against Assange on all the other issues. She dismissed arguments that the extradition application was improperly motivated by politics as well as claims that the Australian was acting as a journalist. Instead Judge Baraitser found that the facts alleged could constitute criminal offences and lead to extradition.

However, the medical evidence regarding his psychological state combined with the allegations over the harsh regime that the US “supermax” federal prison had in store for Assange sealed the judicial discharge.

The article was originally published in The Times on 07.01.2021, to continue reading the article in full, click here.

Ben Keith is a leading specialist in Extradition and International Crime, as well as dealing with Immigration, Serious Fraud, and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. He is top-ranked in Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500 for his Extradition work.