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REVEALED: Chief magistrate in Assange case received financial benefits from secretive partner organisations of UK Foreign Office

The senior judge overseeing the extradition proceedings of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange received financial benefits from two partner organisations of the British Foreign Office before her appointment, it can be revealed.

by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis 

Part 6 - Lady Arbuthnot’s rulings

Lady Arbuthnot’s husband is a key figure in the British military and intelligence establishment — a highly controversial issue given that Lady Arbuthnot has made rulings in the Assange case and continues to oversee it as chief magistrate.

Lord Arbuthnot was from 2016-17 a director of SC Strategy, a consultancy created by Sir John Scarlett, the former head of MI6 who had been behind the “dodgy dossier” used by Tony Blair to push for war with Iraq.  

Arbuthnot is currently the chair of the advisory board of arms corporation Thales UK and board member of Montrose Associates, a “strategic intelligence” consultancy, whose president is former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. 

Lady Arbuthnot has refused to formally recuse herself from the Assange case. A judiciary spokesman has said, “There has been no bias demonstrated by the chief magistrate. The chief magistrate, however, is aware of the judicial conduct guidance that advises on avoiding the perception of bias and is not hearing the case”.

It is unclear what “perception of bias” Lady Arbuthnot accepts and on what basis she stepped aside from personally hearing the case. 

The chief magistrate’s role includes “supporting and guiding district judge colleagues”, including Vanessa Baraitser, who ruled on the case in 2019. Lady Arbuthnot is also likely to have approved of Baraitser’s appointment to hear the Assange case. 

Her previous rulings on Assange cannot be revisited by the defence when she fails to declare a conflict of interest. 

Lady Arbuthnot’s first ruling on Assange was made in February 2018 while he was a political asylee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange’s lawyers had applied to have his British arrest warrant withdrawn. 

Assange had never been charged with a crime, and in May 2017 the Swedish proceedings had been discontinued along with the European Arrest Warrant. The warrant related to Assange skipping bail to claim asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where the Ecuadorian government agreed that he was at risk of political persecution in the United States. 

Arbuthnot refused the request. Her ruling was irregular, dismissing Assange’s fears of US extradition and the findings of the UN. “I accept that Mr Assange had expressed fears of being returned to the United States from a very early stage in the Swedish extradition proceedings but… I do not find that Mr Assange’s fears were reasonable,” she said. 

I give little weight to the views of the Working Group,” she added, referring to the United Nations body which termed Assange’s condition one of “arbitrary detention”. “I do not find that Mr Assange’s stay in the Embassy is inappropriate, unjust, unpredictable, unreasonable, unnecessary or disproportionate.

When he was grabbed from the Ecuadorian embassy by British police in April 2019, district judge Michael Snow pilloried Assange’s claims that Lady Arbuthnot was conflicted: “His assertion that he has not had a fair hearing is laughable. And his behaviour is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” Snow told the court.

Lady Arbuthnot made her most recent ruling on Assange in June 2019. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser — who is still overseen by Lady Arbuthnot — will rule on the extradition proceedings which begin on 25 February. 

Liz Truss, Lady Arbuthnot, Lord Arbuthnot, and the Foreign Office, did not respond to requests for comment. 

***

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