Assange chums must cough up £93,500 bail over embassy lurk
Wikileakster still living on sofa in small diplo flat
While Julian Assange™ continues to sun himself under a SAD lamp in London's Ecuadorian Embassy, the supporters who put up his bail money - and so kept him out of British custody and free to hole up in the embassy - have been ordered to cough their cash up.
Nine supporters of Assange have been told by judicial authorities to hand over hefty sums of money having failed in their legal duty to secure the surrender of the 41-year-old Australia-born webmaster in connection with extradition proceedings.
His final appeal against being deported to Sweden, where prosecutors wish to question him over allegations of sexual misconduct, failed in the Supreme Court in June. Within days of that decision, Assange - apparently unbeknownst to the friends and supporters who had pledged their cash to keep him out of British custody during the process - breached his UK bail conditions by evading curfew and seeking political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London's Knightbridge. He has remained there ever since.
Judge Howard Riddle said today that some of a bond of £140,000 offered in late 2010 to cover Assange's conditional bail must now be paid.
A total of £93,500 has been demanded from the nine sureties. The wealthy ex-Guards officer and journalist Vaughan Smith, who had housed Assange in his country house as part of the bail conditions, is expected to pay £12,000 by 6 November.
Lady Caroline Evans, journalist Phillip Knightley and Nobel Prize winning scientist John Sulston will lose £15,000 apiece for acting as sureties to Assange.
Riddle noted that the individuals who put up Assange's bond had foolishly "acted in good faith."
The judge said [PDF]:
I accept that they trusted Mr Assange to surrender himself as required. I accept that they followed the proceedings and made necessary arrangements to remain in contact with him. However, they failed in their basic duty, to ensure his surrender. They must have understood the risk and the concerns of the courts. Both this court and the High Court assessed that there were substantial grounds to believe the defendant would abscond, and that the risk could only be met by stringent conditions including the sureties.
Assange, meanwhile, remains in somewhat cramped conditions alongside Ecuadorian diplomatic staff at Flat 3B, No. 3 Hans Crescent in Knightbridge. The Ecuadorian government granted him political asylum in August but Scotland Yard cops have clear instructions to arrest the WikiLeaks founder "under any circumstances" should he set foot outside the embassy, which is recognised legally as Ecuadorian territory. ®
"which is recognised legally as Ecuadorian territory"
This is just wrong.
Embassies are not the sovereign territory of their operating state, and have never been recognised as such. The treaty that this flows from is the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), and has been signed by almost all countries (this is how 'international law' works).
The clause in question is this : " .. The premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolate .."
This means the host country can't go in, by agreement. It does not give a piece of the hosts territory away to do with as the recipient chooses, which is what 'sovereign' means.
There is a legal agreement that UK officials won't go in without prior approval by the ambassador, but thats a very different thing from having sovereignty.
Re: Duties and powers
It's rather more subtle than that - the judge explains his reasoning - about the system:
A surety undertakes to forfeit a sum of money if the defendant fails to surrender as required. Considerable care is taken to explain that obligation and the consequences before a surety is taken. This system, in one form or another, has great antiquity. It is immensely valuable. A court concerned that a defendant will fail to surrender will not normally know that defendant personally, nor indeed much about him. When members of the community who do know the defendant say they trust him to surrender and are prepared to stake their own money on that trust, that can have a powerful influence on the decision of the court as to whether or not to grant bail. There are two important side-effects. The first is that the sureties will keep an eye on the defendant, and report to the authorities if there is a concern that he will abscond. In those circumstances, the security can withdraw. In granting bail I understand that Ouseley J expressly referred to this advantage of sureties. The second is that a defendant will be deterred from absconding by the knowledge that if he does so then his family and friends who provided the sureties will lose their money. In the experience of this court, it is comparatively rare for a defendant to fail to surrender when meaningful sureties are in place.
and the specific detail that in this case those who advanced the bond have expressly declined to pressure Mr Assange to surrender:
I say immediately that I have real respect for the way that the sureties have conducted themselves in difficult circumstances. I am satisfied that what they have said and written accurately reflects their genuine views. In declining to publicly (or as far as I know privately) urge Mr Assange to surrender himself they have acted against self-interest. They have acted on their beliefs and principles throughout. In what is sometimes considered to be a selfish age, that is admirable.
So he has a sympathetic understanding of their position, makes allowance for their personal circumstances, but is acting to uphold the integrity of a well-tested and valuable part of our legal system. What more should we hope of a judge?
Re: If they want their money, they can always sue him in Equador.
Not nearly as ironic as someone trying to prevent their being locked up in a small room in a highly secure building for an indeterminate amount of time, skipping bail and hiding out in a small room in a highly secure building, etc. etc...