Today, the prosecutors in the Julian Assange case did their show trial predecessors from other legal traditions proud. The ghosts of such figures as Soviet state prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, would have approved of the line of questioning taken by James Lewis QC: suggest that Assange, accused of 17 counts of violating the US Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime, reads medical literature to exaggerate his condition.
Additionally to the political hook the defence is hanging its case on – political offences being a bar to extradition in the United Kingdom’s 2003 Extradition Act) – a medical one has been fashioned. Section 91 makes it clear that the judge in the extradition hearing must order the discharge of a person or adjourn the extradition hearing if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” This can be read alongside the application of the European Convention of Human Rights, which stipulates under Article 3 that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Dr. Michael Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, took the stand at the Old Bailey to delve into Assange’s medical condition. His visits to Assange had yielded a man deprived of sleep, suffering “loss of weight, a sense of pre-occupation and helplessness as a result of threats to his life, the concealment of a razor blade as a means to self-harm and obsessive ruminations of ways of killing himself.” Kopelman was, he stated in submissions to the court, “as certain as a psychiatrist ever can be that, in the event of imminent extradition, Mr Assange would indeed find a way to commit suicide.”
The cross-examination by Lewis was in the worst traditions of the law. Non sequiturs were aplenty; baseless assessments on expertise generously made. Kopelman was, claimed the prosecutor, an expert in brain disease and its link with mental health, making him ill-suited to comment on Assange’s health. Kopelman, rather put out at this, reminded Lewis that he had previously called upon his services in a difference case. It was “a bit rich” for the prosecutor to now be challenging his qualifications.