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US wins appeal on extradition of Julian Assange from UK

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The US government has won its bid to overturn a judge’s decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Mr Assange (50) is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

US authorities brought a high court challenge against a January ruling by then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser that Mr Assange should not be sent to the US, in which she cited a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.

After a two-day hearing in October, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde, ruled in favour of the US on Friday.

The senior judges found that the judge had based her decision on the risk of Mr Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.

However, the US authorities later gave assurances that Mr Assange would not face those strictest measures either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.

Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”

He added: “That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favour.”

It is expected that Mr Assange will attempt to bring an appeal over this latest decision.

The high court was previously told that blocking Mr Assange’s removal due to his mental health risks “rewarding fugitives for their flight”.

James Lewis QC, for the US, said the district judge based her decision on Mr Assange’s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventative measures”, which risked becoming a “trump card” for anyone who wanted to oppose their extradition regardless of any resources the other state might have.

Mr Lewis said that the four “binding” diplomatic assurances made were a “solemn matter” and “are not dished out like smarties”.

These included that Mr Assange would not be submitted to special administrative measures (SAMs) and detained at the ADX Florence Supermax jail if extradited and that the US would consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any prison sentence he may be given.

The US authorities also argued Mr Assange is well enough to be extradited, with Mr Lewis telling the court his mental illness “does not even come close” to being severe enough to prevent being sent overseas.

But lawyers representing Mr Assange, who opposed the US’s bid to overturn the extradition block, had argued that the assurances over the WikiLeaks founder’s potential treatment were “meaningless” and “vague”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC said the judge had produced a “carefully considered and fully reasoned judgment”, adding it was “clear” she had “scrupulously applied the test for oppression in cases of mental disorder”.

Mr Fitzgerald later said that assurances not to impose SAMs on Mr Assange or hold him at the ADX Florence Supermax jail pre-trial or post-conviction do not remove the risk of “conditions of administrative isolation”.

The court also heard that Mr Assange had faced a “menacing, threatening and frightening” situation while under surveillance when he lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Mr Fitzgerald argued in written submissions that claims of “extreme measures of surveillance”, alongside subsequent “recent disclosures about CIA plans from the same period in time to seriously harm Julian Assange”, justified earlier concerns for the safety and privacy of his partner Stella Moris.

Mr Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison since 2019 after he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions.

He had entered the building in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped. – PA

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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Suspects in UK citing ‘inhuman’ Irish jails to try halt extradition

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Criminal suspects abroad who are wanted by the Irish authorities are attempting to prevent their extradition on grounds of “inhuman” prison conditions here.

A number of legal challenges have been taken in the UK on such grounds since the extradition system was overhauled last year as a result of Brexit.

Most of the challenges are based on reports of overcrowding and “slopping out” – the manual emptying of containers used as toilets in cells overnight – in the Irish prison system.

Although none have been successful to date, in at least one case the Irish authorities have been required to offer assurances that a prisoner would not be forced to “slop out” in order to secure their extradition.

The case, which was finalised in the Scottish High Court last week, concerned a man wanted in Ireland for several domestic abuse-type offences. The man objected to his extradition on the basis that he may be forced to “slop out” or have to use the toilet in open view in front of cell mates in an Irish prison.

He cited a 2020 Council of Europe report which found the “degrading” practice of “slopping out” was still present in some prisons despite efforts by the authorities to abolish it.

Toilet dignity

The report also found almost half of the prison population still have to use the toilet in the presence of other prisoners.

A Scottish judge said such a system would carry “at least a strong presumption” of a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, after receiving a letter from a senior official in the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) office that the suspect would not have to slop out during any prison sentence, the extradition was approved.

“The Irish Prison Service has confirmed that [the suspect] will not be placed in conditions where he is required to ‘slop out’ – either on remand or in the event that he is committed to a term of imprisonment,” the DPP official wrote.

The issue of prison conditions is one of a number of obstacles faced by the State in extraditing suspects to and from Ireland post-Brexit.

After the final withdrawal of the UK from the EU in January 2021, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system, which allowed for the rapid and simplified extraditions of prisoners to and from the UK, was replaced by a new system laid out in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) struck between the EU and UK.

Post-Brexit uncertainty

In recent times, there were about 90 outgoing extradition warrants issued by Ireland per year, with about 70 per cent of those going to the UK. In 2021, that figure dropped by about half amid legal uncertainties surrounding the new system.

Officials in the DPP’s office had anticipated such issues may arise under the new system and sought to fast track as many extraditions as possible before its implementation. In 2020, it applied for about 180 extradition warrants, double the usual figure, ahead of the final withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

The new TCA system has also been subject to objections by suspects in Ireland wanted by the UK authorities. Last year, the Supreme Court referred two cases to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) where the applicants claimed they could not be handed over the UK under the new system.

In November, the CJEU ruled the TCA system allows the men to be extradited. The ruling was a source of considerable relief to officials in the offices of the Attorney-General and the Chief State Solicitor as it was seen as a vindication of the new system.


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