Assange wins

District judge says it would be oppressive to extradite him to US on espionage charges

Here are the key extracts from District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling this morning:

278. Section 91 of the Extradition Act 2003 provides: 

(1) This section applies if at any time in the extradition hearing it appears to the judge that the condition in subsection (2) is satisfied. 

(2) The condition is that the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him. 

(3) The judge must— 

(a) order the person’s discharge, or 

(b) adjourn the extradition hearing until it appears to him that the condition in subsection (2) is no longer satisfied.

285. The detention conditions in which Mr. Assange is likely to be held are relevant to Mr. Assange’s risk of suicide. 

295. …I consider there to be a real risk that Mr. Assange will be subject to restrictive special administrative measures [SAMs]

305. …In my judgment there is a real risk that Mr. Assange will be designated to the ADX, Florence. 

337. I am satisfied that the risk that Mr. Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one. 

355. I am satisfied that, if he is subjected to the extreme conditions of SAMs, Mr. Assange’s mental health will deteriorate to the point where he will commit suicide with the “single minded determination” described by Dr. Deeley. 

356. First, Professor Kopelman offers the firm opinion that he is as confident as a psychiatrist can ever be that Mr. Assange will find a way to commit suicide. This opinion is based on a clinical evaluation following hours of clinical assessment with Mr. Assange, and a detailed knowledge of his history and circumstances. 

357. Secondly, though it is by no means certain that SAMs will be imposed on Mr. Assange, and, if it is, there are a range of measures the authorities can consider, nevertheless, for reasons already given, it is my judgment that there is a real risk that he will be kept in the near isolated conditions imposed by the harshest SAMs regime, both pre-trial and post-trial. 

358. Thirdly, many of the protective factors currently in place at HMP Belmarsh would be removed by these conditions. Mr. Assange’s health improved on being removed from relative isolation in healthcare. He has been able to access the support of family and friends. He has had access to a Samaritans phoneline. He has benefited from a trusting relationship with the prison In-Reach psychologist. By contrast, a SAMs regime would severely restrict his contact with all other human beings, including other prisoners, staff and his family. In detention subject to SAMs, he would have absolutely no communication with other prisoners, even through the walls of his cell, and time out of his cell would be spent alone. Ms. Baird, from her experiences as an SES warden at the MCC, described the only form of human interaction coming from correctional officers who open the viewing slot during their inspection rounds of the unit, from institution staff walking through the unit during their required weekly rounds, or when meals are delivered through the secure meal slot in the cell door. The ‘Darkest Corner’ reported inmates finding their communication with family to be so limited and degraded through delay and constant monitoring, as to render it worthless. Whilst Dr. Leukefeld and Mr. Kromberg set out BOP policies and programmes on mental health treatment, the CIC report of 31 October 2018 described the practical reality at the ADX Florence, where psychological services are offered primarily through self-help packets and videos, where slots for individual therapy are limited, and where group therapy for prisoners subject to SAMs takes place from individual cages and with prisoners shackled. Ms. Baird confirmed that any program offered to a prisoner subject to SAMs would take place in isolation. 

359. Fourthly, Dr. Leukefeld has set out measures which could be taken to prevent suicide including suicide risk assessment, staff training to identify suicide risk and suicide watch. However, Mr. Assange undoubtedly has the intellect to circumvent these suicide preventative measures; in order to avoid suicide watch or increased isolation at HMP Belmarsh, he has already adopted a strategy of disguising his suicidal thoughts. Professor Kopelman noted that he had been reluctant to discuss his mental state with prison staff partly because he has been fearful of being placed in more isolated conditions or on constant watch. Dr. Blackwood noted that, during a review by a prison nurse in September 2019, Mr. Assange had stated that he had to be careful about what he said, as being placed on constant watch would be like torture to him. 

360. Fifthly, I have no doubt that Mr. Assange has the “determination, planning and intelligence” (also ascribed to Mr. Love in Lauri Love v United States of America (above)). Dr. Deeley described his intense focus and the rigidity and inflexibility of his thoughts, which characterise his autistic spectrum disorder, which in his opinion will increase this determination. As Professor Kopelman put it, Mr. Assange will not only find a way to suicide but it will be executed “with the single-minded determination of his ASD/Asperger’s”. He has already made suicidal plans which Professor Kopelman considered to be “highly plausible” and taken steps to plan for his death including by preparing a Will and requesting absolution from the Catholic priest who attends the prison. 

361. Nor, it seems, is it possible to prevent suicide where a prisoner is determined to go through with this. Others have succeeded in recent years in committing suicide at BOP jails: at the ADX in Florence, the Corrections Information Council (“CIC”) report of 31 October 2018 recorded a completed suicide that had taken place two years before their visit; Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide at the MCC jail in August 2019. Ms. Manning was hospitalised after an attempted to commit suicide at the ADC jail in 2020. As Professor Kopelman stated, suicide protocols cannot prevent suicide, and, as Ms. Baird put it “the suicide prevention strategy of the BOP is very good but it doesn’t always work”. Faced with conditions of near total isolation and without the protective factors which moderate his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied that the procedures described by Dr. Leukefled will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide. 

362. I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. I also accept that there is a strong public interest in giving effect to treaty obligations and that this is an important factor to have in mind. However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the “single minded determination” of his autism spectrum disorder. 

363. I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.