Many members of public excluded from Julian Assange extradition first hearing

by Stephen Hewitt | Published 8 May 2019 | Last updated 9 May 2019

Court building behind with a crowd in front including placards and camera tripods.
2 May 2019: A crowd outside Westminster Magistrates Court after the first hearing for the extradition of Julian Assange

On Thursday 2 May 2019 the first hearing for the extradition of Julian Assange under the 2003 Extradition Act was held in Court 3 of Westminster Magistrates court.

A crowd was left blocking the corridor after staff shut the outer doors to Court 3, refusing entry to the hearing. One member of staff at the door to the court room said “it's press and family” and that all the seats were already taken. “Kangaroo court”, said one man. “It's a disgrace”, was another comment.

There had been a queue to enter the building and pass through the metal detectors at the entrance. By around 9:45 it took around 15 minutes to traverse this queue, which started down the street out of sight of the main entrance and passed between a chanting crowd with banners on one side and an array of cameras and tripods on the other.

The printed paper lists on the wall on the ground floor showed “ASSANGE” scheduled for 10:00 in Court 3, but the hearing did not start until at least 11:00.

Near the entrance to Court 3 there was already a crowd when I arrived at around 10:00. Then for about an hour around fifty people remained crowded in the corridor and the seating area, with intermittent cries of “clear the pathways please” and “move back” from a member of staff guarding the door. “only got ten seats”, I heard from a member of staff to one group.

Around 11:00 the member of staff on the door called for the press to enter. Then she called out “purple passes” and finally “green passes”, as people continued to file in. In one passing hand I glimpsed a green piece of paper approximately A5 size on which was printed in large capitals “HM COURTS AND TRIBUNAL” and below it “PRESS”.

After this the outer doors were closed, with protests from some of those excluded. Two people were told to delete photographs or videos from their mobile phone, a man with “COURT SECURITY OFFICER” on his shoulder and "mitie" on his badge re-emerging from the outer doors of Court 3 to enforce this. “and delete that one as well please”, I heard him say.

At the Customer Service Desk I asked whether the proceedings could be held in a larger court room. The Customer Service Manager said that Court 1 was a bigger room but had not been used because of the video link. Already at the desk was a man raising the same topic, and asking how to make a complaint.

Back in the corridor near Court 3 barrister Ben Brandon was advising a small group that they should not read anything sinister into the use of the small Court 3, although other words he added seemed to imply that the larger Court 1 had been used with a video link. He said that he is representing the USA in this case, instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service. That is how the system works, he explained.

Barrister Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers and Kristinn Hrafnsson of Wikileaks made statements to the media and answered questions outside about an hour later.

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