Vanessa Baraitser

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Person.png Vanessa BaraitserRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Magistrate)
Vanessa Baraitser 3.jpg

Vanessa Baraitser serves as a District Judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court where, on 21 October 2019, she refused to extend Julian Assange's UK extradition proceedings, telling Assange his full extradition case would begin on 24 February 2020.[1]

Having summarily dismissed Julian Assange's bail application, Baraitser ruled on 7 April 2020 that the names of Assange’s partner and young children could be published in the interests of “open justice”.[2] Juan Passarelli tweeted:

"The fluidity in which Judge #VanessaBaraitser delivered her ruling concerning the identity of #Assange's partner and children is almost as she had already had given it thought and written her ruling yesterday in her north London mansion, with a glass of white wine. Just saying!"[3]

"Sneers and imperious indifference"

Artist’s sketch of Julian Assange facing Vanessa Baraitser at Westminster Magistrates' Court

On 28 October 2019, John Pilger described the disturbing scene inside a London courtroom the previous week when the WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange, appeared at the start of a landmark extradition case that will define the future of free journalism:

"The worst moment was one of a number of 'worst' moments. I have sat in many courtrooms and seen judges abuse their positions. This judge, Vanessa Baraitser - actually she isn't a judge at all; she's a magistrate - shocked all of us who were there.

"Her face was a progression of sneers and imperious indifference; she addressed Julian with an arrogance that reminded me of a magistrate presiding over apartheid South Africa's Race Classification Board. When Julian struggled to speak, he couldn't get words out, even stumbling over his name and date of birth.

"When he spoke truth and when his barrister spoke, Baraitser contrived boredom; when the prosecuting barrister spoke, she was attentive. She had nothing to do; it was demonstrably preordained. In the table in front of us were a handful of American officials, whose directions to the prosecutor were carried by his junior; back and forth this young woman went, delivering instructions.

"The judge watched this outrage without a comment. It reminded me of a newsreel of a show trial in Stalin's Moscow; the difference was that Soviet show trials were broadcast. Here, the state broadcaster, the BBC, blacked it out, as did the other mainstream channels.

"Having ignored Julian's barrister's factual description of how the CIA had run a Spanish security firm that spied on him in the Ecuadorean embassy, she didn't yawn, but her disinterest was as expressive. She then denied Julian's lawyers any more time to prepare their case - even though their client was prevented in prison from receiving legal documents and other tools with which to defend himself.

"Her knee in the groin was to announce that the next court hearing would be at remote Woolwich, which adjoins Belmarsh Prison and has few seats for the public. This will ensure isolation and be as close to a secret trial as it's possible to get. Did this happen in the home of the Magna Carta? Yes, but who knew?

"Julian's case is often compared with Dreyfus; but historically it's far more important. No one doubts - not his enemies on The New York Times, not the Murdoch press in Australia - that if he is extradited to the United States and the inevitable supermax, journalism will be incarcerated, too.

"Who will then dare to expose anything of importance, let alone the high crimes of the West? Who will dare publish 'Collateral Murder'? Who will dare tell the public that democracy, such as it is, has been subverted by a corporate authoritarianism from which fascism draws its strength.

"Once there were spaces, gaps, boltholes, in mainstream journalism in which mavericks, who are the best journalists, could work. These are long closed now. The hope is the samizdat on the internet, where fine disobedient journalism is still practised. The greater hope is that a judge or even judges in Britain's court of appeal, the High Court, will rediscover justice and set him free. In the meantime, it's our responsibility to fight in ways we know but which now require more than a modicum of Julian Assange's courage."[4]

Extradition case

On 27 February 2020, Craig Murray reported on day 3 (26 February 2020) of Julian Assange's extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court:

Danger to the public?

"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 Baltasar Garzón'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 10am tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.

Photos in the courtroom

"One of two known public pictures of Vanessa Baraitser outside the Assange hearing."[5]
Judge...#VanessaBaraitser cycles home!"[6]

"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.

Political extradition

"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.

Craig Murray: In the interests of “open justice” here's Vanessa singing![7]

"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 Statesextradition 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."[8]

 

Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Assange Bail Application Todayblog post25 March 2020Craig MurrayIf the authorities now refuse to allow him out on bail during the COVID-19 outbreak, I do not see how anybody can possibly argue there is any intention other than to cause his death.
Document:Beyond Wordsblog post8 April 2020Craig MurrayNobody cultivates her own anonymity more than Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser who has her existence carefully removed from the Internet almost entirely. Yet she seeks to destroy the peace and young lives of Julian Assange’s family.
Document:The Armoured Glass Box is an Instrument of Tortureblog postCraig MurrayI think there is a corner of the mind of this daughter of dissidents from apartheid that rejects her own role in the torture of Julian Assange, and is continually urging “I had no choice, I had no agency”. Those who succumb to do evil must find what internal comfort they may.
Document:Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 2blog post26 February 2020Craig MurrayThen, to wrap up proceedings, Baraitser dropped a massive bombshell. She stated that although Article 4.1 of the US/UK Extradition Treaty forbade political extraditions, this was only in the Treaty. That exemption does not appear in the UK Extradition Act.


References