Twitter allowed during bail hearing
District judge decided to relax the rules on use of electronic devices during Julian Assange’s court appearance
Date: 14th December 2010
The judge hearing Julian Assange’s application broke new ground today by letting reporters use Twitter and other electronic means to update the outside world on developments in court.
Usually courts in England and Wales frown upon journalists using electronic devices in hearings. But senior district judge Howard Riddle decided to relax the rules, officials at City of Westminster magistrates court confirmed, just before the hearing began. Some journalists tweeted, others texted and emailed developments.
Without permission, such communications could amount to contempt of court. For instance, the use of phones is banned, though some reporters have developed a tactic of concealing a phone under a notebook while texting developments in court back to their newsrooms.
The rules governing courts in England and Wales are very rigid, and vary from court to court. Visual sketches of court proceedings require the artist to leave the room, and rely on their memory, before they can put pen to paper.
Media interest in today’s proceedings was far in excess of what court officials were expecting. They not only allowed people to stand, but two reporters were allowed to sit in the witness box, though they were asked to move when people gave evidence in support of Assange.
* * * * *
Julian Assange granted bail: live updates• Assange granted bail to cheers from supporters
• He remains in custody as Sweden says it will appeal
• Assange criticises Visa, MasterCard and Paypal from cell
• Police worked case against Madeleine McCann’s parents
• Full coverage of the WikiLeaks cables
Date: 14th December 2010
Source: The Guardian
5.44pm: Just to recap: Assange will remain in prison, at least until the appeal is heard. That seems to be the end of the excitement and confusion – for today at least. I’m off home. Thanks for all your comments.
5.36pm: Speaking again outside the court, Stephens says the Swedes will not abide by the umpire’s decision. “They [the Swedish authorities] clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr Assange in jail,” he added.
“This is really turning in to a show trial. We will be in court in the next 48 hours, they haven’t given us the courtesy to say when. It is an unfortunate state of affairs … but given their history of persecuting of Mr Assange, it is perhaps not surprising.”
Asked how Assange had taken the decision, Stephens said he was phlegmatic.
5.29pm: “I understand,” Assange said, Sam Jones has tweeted.
5.28pm: The appeal will take place at the high court, BBC news reports.
5.26pm: Forget the last half an hour – the decision will be challenged by the Swedish authorities. There’s going to be an appeal within 48 hours, Sam reports.
5.25pm: Assange is back in court, Sam Jones reports. “Stephens has passed his client a note. Discussion with QC, too,” he tweets.
5.22pm: Sam Jones is tweeting from the court. You can read his updates here or on the right-hand side of the blog.
5.20pm: Confusion reigns outside the court. We had heard, via reporters briefed by Assange’s lawyers, that the Swedish authorities would not appeal – but that is yet to be confirmed. “There’s been confusion in the passing of messages to me,” Stephens said.
They are all back in the court now. More Twitter court reporting to come?
5.15pm: Somewhere amid the confusion, Assange’s mother, Christine, appeared outside the court and said she was “very very happy”.
5.12pm: Stephens says the court will meet again at 5.15pm. At that point, the Swedish authorities will make it clear whether they will launch an appeal.
5.06pm: Stephens said it could take several days to raise the cash, but added: “Mr Assange believes in British justice, and he has been encouraged in that today.”
4.59pm: More from Stephens about Assange’s prospects of freedom:
It is impossible to say how long it will take before Mr Assange is out. The problem is that £200,000 can’t be paid in by cheque because cheques take seven days to clear. We have to go around to find money in cash. Until this court is in possession of £200,000, an innocent man stays in jail.
Stephens trotted out the adjectives to describe the conditions that Assange is being held – he used the words Orwellian, Dickensian and Victorian.
4.55pm: Big news if true: Swedish prosecutors will not appeal, according to ABC’s Jim Sciutto.
4.46pm: The Swedish process is an abusive process, Stephens claimed, adding that supporting material for the case had still not been provided. Assange will remain in jail until tomorrow or Thursday unless £200,000 in cash can be found. If the cash is stumped up, he will be freed.
Stephens said bail conditions involved Assange staying in a particular location so he could be geo-located with an electronic tag.
He is being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours, Stephens said. His mail is not getting through and he is not being allowed to read newspapers. He said Assange was worried about his colleagues at WikiLeaks.
4.39pm: Mark Stephens said Assange is being held in Orwellian conditions.
The writer Hanif Kureshi and the publisher Lord Matthew Evan were also willing to put up surety, he added. Stephens said he has to find £200,000 in cash before Assange can be released.
The Swedish authorities have another hour to lodge an appeal. If they do appeal, this will be a persecution rather than a prosecution, Stephens said.
4.36pm: Speaking outside the court, Vaughan Smith said:
This is huge … it is not just about press freedom, it is about the internet. As journalists, we should be very concerned about the possibility of legislation that would restrict our freedom. Assange has held up a very large mirror mirron in front of journalists. Journalist are concerned by the reflection they see.
Asked whether he was concerned for his own safety after allowing Assange to stay at his property, Smith said: “I’m conscious that there are risks. I’m not going to dodge the decision I have made to give him a place to live. I’m not expecting anyone to threaten me.”
4.21pm: Vikram Dodd reports:
Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer, said Assange could be in custody for several days until the £200,000 is security is raised.
Stephens added that a total of £1m in sureties had been pledged to support Assange’s bail application.
Vaughn Smith, one of the people offering security, is the founder of the FrontLine club in west London. Once he is released, Assange will stay at Smith’s estate, Ellingham Hall, in Suffolk, and report to a nearby police station at Bungay every evening.
4.18pm: Speaking outside the court, Ken Loach said it was “good news” that Assange had been granted bail.
Clearly, if the Swedish government opposes bail it will show there is some vindictiveness beyond this case. It will show there is some political element that goes beyond the case.
4.17pm: Assange has left the court and is thought to be on way back to Wandsworth prison, according to Channel 4 News.
4.08pm: Speaking outside the court, John Pilger said it was a “disgrace” that Assange was held in solitary confinement (Assange was put on his own at the request of his lawyers).
Pilger said too many conditions were set on bail.
4.02pm: Two good Twitter jokes:
Evengeny Morozov: Dear Anonymous: Don’t DDoS Assange’s ankle bracelet. It won’t help.
Newsnight reporter Paul Mason: Assange 10pm curfew bail conditions mean he cannot appear live on #newsnight.
3.55pm: Instant reaction from Assange’s supporters, courtesy of PA:
Jemima Khan – who earlier offered a surety on behalf of Assange – said: “It’s great news. I can hear them all cheering outside.”
The novelist Tariq Ali said: “I’m very pleased that he is out. I think the extradition charges should now be dealt with in the same way. His barrister made the same point – that this is not rape under English law and there is absolutely no reason for extradition. We are delighted he is out, and he should never have been locked up in the first place.”
The author Yvonne Ridley said: “It is a victory for common sense. If he had been refused bail, it would have meant the court had become a political arena.”
Gavin MacFadyen, of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said: “I am very pleased, and it is about time. We do not know what the prosecution will do now. And there is still a possibility of an appeal.”
3.50pm: Here’s our story on today’s decision.
3.46pm: More on the bail conditions.
• Surety of £240,000, according to BBC News
• Curfew from 10am-2pm and 10pm-2am
• Assange must report to the police station at 6pm every day
3.36pm: Hang on. Swedish prosecutors plan to launch an appeal against the decision to grant Assange bail. They have two hours to lodge an appeal. Assange will not be freed until that process is over.
A lawyer for Assange predicted that the he won’t be released tonight, according to Mostrous.
3.34pm: Assange’s bail conditions include surrendering his passport, a curfew and an electronic tag.
3.31pm: Assange’s next court appearance will be on 11 January 2011. (Sorry about the technical problems in the last few minutes).
3.25pm: Assange has been granted bail, to cheers from inside and outside the court.
3.00pm: We doubt whether this actual category of rape would be rape under English law, Robertson told the court, according to Mostrous (this is the weirdest way to report court proceedings – why don’t they televise it and have done with it?).
2.57pm: Sarah Saunders, a restaurant designer and friend of Assange, signs document offering £150,000 as surety, writes Vikram Dodd. She says it is almost all the money she has.
2.51pm: It looks likely that Assange will be granted bail, Vikram Dodd predicts from the court.
He adds: “Over £200,000 offered in surety for bail. Court told ten international public figures also offering surety. Court asks one of them to sign [bail] document.”
2.46pm: Vaughan Smith, from the Frontline club, has been put forward as someone offering surety. As expected, Assange’s barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, says an electronic tag could be placed on Assange if he is bailed. He also offers a curfew and travel restrictions, according to Mostrous.
Robertson jokes that Assange would be under “mansion arrest” if he was bailed to Vaughan Smith’s house, Mostrous tweets.
2.34pm: Unfortunately, we can’t set up an automatic feed for Alexi Mostrous’s Twitter feed. Unlike Heather, he works for someone else.
Here’s his three latest tweets:
pros counsel: “The court has already found that mr Assange is a flight risk and its submitted that nothing has changed”
Judge says: “the stronger the case, the more likely the defendant is to abscond, the weaker the case, the less likely.”
Pros counsel says: “In bail applications under extradition act strength of evidence ought not to be primary focus.”
2.30pm: This will save lots of fiddly blogging. You can now read Heather Brooke’s tweets from the court on the right-hand side of this post.
2.28pm: Tweeting in court – there’s an article on that. Siobhain Butterworth, the Guardian’s former readers’ editor, writes:
Since there isn’t a statutory ban on creating text by means of electronic devices, it surprises me that journalists and bloggers haven’t already lobbied British judges about reporting directly from the courtroom.
And lo, it came to pass.
2.23pm: The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd, who also made it inside, writes:
Court number one is packed, with so much press interest that special permission was given for people to stand. Assange entered at 2.12pm, wearing black jacket and white shirt. He greeted his lawyer Mark Stephens.
2.16pm: Assange has appeared at the court, according to Mostrous.
The judge has apologised for the size of the court.
2.09pm: While the hearing continues, the home secretary, Theresa May, was asked about Assange at the home affairs select committee. She said she has had no representations from the US over him.
2.06pm: Has a judge ever allowed journalists to tweet court proceedings before?
1.52pm: Several journalists are tweeting proceedings, including Heather Brook @newsbrooke, who writes: “Swedish team with prosecutor gemma lindfield have just sat down in #assange extradition”.
Here are a couple of others:
@AlexiMostrous: “Bianca Jagger sitting as probable surety next to Helena Kennedy”.
@jimsciuttoABC “Courtroom fact of the day: in UK, sketch artists have to draw to memory. Can’t even sketch in ct here”
1.49pm: The judge has given reporters permission to Tweet proceedings, according to Alexi Mostrous, from the Times. But only “if it’s quiet and doesn’t disturb anything”.
1.41pm: Assange’s new barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, has also arrived at the court. He had to bang on the door to get in, according to ABC’s Jim Sciutto.
Sciutto also tweets that he hasn’t seen this many journalists at a trial since Saddam Hussein’s . Now there’s name-dropping for you.
1.36pm: Journalists appear to be outnumbering protesters outside the court. Sam Jones estimates that there are only 30 protesters in Horseferry Road.
1.26pm: My colleague Vikram Dodd managed to catch a word with the film director Ken Loach before he went into the court.
Loach said he would provide surety of £20,000 for Assange and added that at least six or seven other people would do the same. He said Assange deserved to be released today. “If there is any justice, he must do,” he said.
“The evidence against Assange seems very flimsy. The more worrying thing is the political intrigue behind the scenes.”
Other celebs and notables spotted at the court include Bianca Jagger, Henry Porter and Tariq Ali.
1.18pm: Back at the court, the socialite Jemima Khan has arrived, as has Fatima Bhutto, the niece of the former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. Jemima Khan explained why she is backing Assange in an article in last Sunday’s Observer.
Ken Loach and John Pilger have also turned up, according to eagle-eyed Sam Jones.
1.14pm: Salon’s Glenn Greenwald gives us the heads up on a troubling-sounding story.
He reports that Assange’s prison statement about Visa, MasterCard and PayPal could escalate “crippling web attacks on multinational companies”.
12.39pm: The US filmmaker Michael Moore has offered $20,000 in surety as part of Assange’s growing bail fund. In a post for the Daily Kos, he explains why:
Yesterday, in Westminster magistrates court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that I have put up $20,000 of my own money to help bail Mr Assange out of jail.
Furthermore, I am publicly offering the assistance of my website, my servers, my domain names and anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving as it continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name and with our tax dollars.
We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again.
So why is WikiLeaks, after performing such an important public service, under such vicious attack? Because they have outed and embarrassed those who have covered up the truth. The assault on them has been over the top.
Should that be £s? All the celebs last week, including Jemima Khan, John Pilger and Ken Loach were offering £20,000.
12.34pm: Police officers have dragged one protester from outside court to the other side of Horseferry Road, where a handful of people are demonstrating, Sam Jones emails.
Reporters are being told they will have to wait another 30 minutes before they are allowed inside the court, he adds.
12.25pm: Assange’s supporters have turned up at the court. One of them is holding a placard that reads: “sex crimes, my arse!” Thanks to Sam Jones for that snippet.
12.19pm: The freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke continues to provide an entertaining Twitter commentary on events outside the court. You can follow her @newsbrooke
Here’s a selection:
#assange’s mom Christine has just arrived in court. Same build as her son. Almost identical shoes and outdoorsy style. #wikileaks
Anyone doubting #wikileaks isn’t a cult of #assange personality needs to see the phalanx of cameras here. Like Cannes wtg for the starlet.
lawyers mark stephens and jennifer robinson have arrived into court. This is such a mad spectacle; court bureaucrats not helping.
12.09pm: Time for a summary:
• Assange has returned to City of Westminster magistrates court to appeal for bail. His lawyers are expected to offer a permanent UK address and suggest using an electronic tag to persuade the court to grant bail.
• In a statement from his prison cell, Assange criticised Visa, MasterCard and PayPal as instruments of US foreign policy. He also said his treatment had strengthened his convictions and determination. The statement was released through Assange’s mother, Christine, who is at the court to support her son.
• Whitehall is preparing for a possible cyber attack on government websites. RBS, one of the subjects of today’s cable disclosures, reported problems with its website. It is unclear whether this connected with hacking.
• Assange continues to enjoy widespread popular support. He topped the readers’ poll in Time’s person of the year contest, and almost half of Britons believe the charges against him are an excuse to keep in custody, according to a CNN poll.
12.08pm: Assange’s mother, Christine, has just arrived at the court, Sam Jones says.
11.56am: Assange’s lawyers, Mark Stephens and Jennifer Robinson, have arrived at the court, according to Sam Jones. They entered without talking to reporters, he added.
11.43am: Here’s a fantastic new picture of Assange tapping his nose from inside that prison van.
The Daily Mail is appalled (again):
Assange even pokes fun at the establishment from his prison van as he prepares for court.
With a telling tap of the finger, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gives the impression that he knows what’s going on even when being transported in a prison van.
The 39-year-old Australian was photographed in the back of the vehicle while being ferried to City of Westminster magistrates court from his Wandsworth prison cell.
He might just be scratching his eye.
Writing in the FT, he says:
The documents published over the past fortnight have provided very little evidence of double-dealing or bad faith in US foreign policy. Conspiracy theorists all over the world must be deeply disappointed.
What about the US spying on the UN?
Even some of the officials who might have been spied upon do not seem terribly outraged, since they assume that espionage from all quarters is an unfortunate fact of diplomatic life.
That’s all right, then.
11.21am: RBS has issued a very brief statement on the problems with its website. For what it’s worth, here it is:
We are aware of an issue affecting some online banking customers and we are working to resolve this as soon as possible.
We apologise to affected customers for any inconvenience this has caused.
No mention of any hacking.
11.16am: BBC News is showing footage of the police van turning up at the court. It is unclear when this occurred. Photographers were there to capture the moment, taking pictures through the tinted glass (see above).
11.10am: The freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke is not impressed with the press facilities at the court, she tweets.
11.07am: A new picture of Assange on his way to the court has emerged. It is currently at the top of the blog.
11.01am: Sam Jones describes the international media scrum that has already gathered outside City of Westminster magistrates court.
10.46am: You Ask: We Search update. Today’s front page story about the Madeleine McCann investigation started as a question from a reader.
We’ve been answering lots more queries on a number of subjects including the the 2012 Olympics, Roman Polanski and the Dutch far right. We’ve had close to 1,500 suggestions so far (a lot from the Netherlands), and are in the process of prioritising and investigating them. Please tweet further suggestions to @GdnCables.
10.37am: WikiLeaks supporters are planning a protest outside the court today.
The Justice for Assange campaign is urging supporters to turn up wearing Assange facemasks.
Its Facebook page says: Julian Assange will be appearing at court for an Extradition Hearing & bail application please come and make your voice heard!
10.20am: RBS has confirmed that there are currently problems with its website. It says users are having trouble transferring funds between accounts on the site. The bank has played down the problems, insisting the site is not being hacked.
So at this stage, the bank is insisting that it is entirely coincidental that news of the problems occurred on day of WikiLeaks disclosures about RBS.
More follows later …
10.16am: As well as passing on that note from her son, Christine Assange has been speaking out against the Australian government’s attitude to him.
9.54am: Almost half of Britons believe that the sex charges against Assange are “an excuse” to keep him in custody so that the US government can prosecute him for releasing secret diplomatic cables, according to a CNN poll.
The CNN poll of British opinion finds that 44% of respondents in Great Britain believe that Sweden’s sex charges are just a pretext, while only 13% flatly disagree. The remaining 43% say they don’t know …
More people agree than disagree that WikiLeaks was right to release the cables, by 42% to 33%. The remainder, 25%, don’t have a position.
9.37am: Julian Assange topped the readers’ poll as Time’s Person of the Year for 2010, the magazine has announced.
Julian Assange raked in 382,020 votes, giving him an easy first place. He was 148,383 votes over the silver medalist, Recep Tayyip Ergodan, the prime minister of Turkey.
The current issue of the magazine features an interview with Assange, which the magazine sent to him in Wandsworth prison, south-west London.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said he wasn’t allowed to see it. Stephens told the Guardian:
Time sent him a copy of the magazine with him on the cover and they censored it, not just by ripping off the cover but by destroying the whole magazine.
9.31am: The speaker of the Hungarian parliament has called for controls on online news reporting to stop “information terrorism”.
According to Politics.hu, Laszlo Kover said:
“Given the leak of the documents was intentional it must be called information terrorism … It is necessary to devise a method to prevent similar cases in the future.”
9.18am: An online dating profile apparently posted by Assange has been seized on by the New York Daily Post.
The profile, on the site OK Cupid, is posted under the name Harry Harrison. It says: “Passionate, and often pig headed activist intellectual seeks siren for love affair, children and occasional criminal conspiracy.”
The Post is convinced the profile was set up by Assange. It memorably headlines the article: “Lonely blond leaker seeks hottie”.
8.48am: At last week’s court hearing, the nomadic Assange was reluctant to give an address. First he gave a PO box address and then an address in Australia. The Frontline Club later revealed that Assange had spent much of the last few months based at the club.
The lack of a permanent UK address is one reason he wasn’t granted bail.
But today his lawyers will offer a permanent UK address, according to a tweet from Alexi Mostrous of the Times.
The lawyers will also suggest that an electronic tag be placed on Assange to help secure bail, Mostrous said.
7.53am: There’s no let up on the WikiLeaks news front, with another busy day in store and lots more leaked cables.
The main item on the agenda is Julian Assange’s appeal to be granted bail. He is due to return to City of Westminster magistrates at around 2pm with a new barrister, Geoffrey Robertson.
He faces extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of sexually assaulting two women. If Assange is denied bail a second time, he is expected to appeal at the high court.
Our legal affairs correspondent, Afua Hirsh, examines the “mockery of extradition”. She asks:
Why can our prisons detain someone (Assange is currently on remand in Wandsworth prison) for an offence under Swedish law that does not exist in British law? And how can a judge agree to an extradition without having enough evidence to make out a prima facie case?
Whitehall is preparing for a possible cyberattack on government websites which could coincide with Assange’s court appearance, according to the Independent.
Meanwhile, Assange has sent a message to the world … via his mum.
The Australian news site Seven News boasts a “world exclusive”, with his first statement since he was locked up last week.
The statement was passed to the station by his mother, Christine, who travelled to Britain to visit her son.
My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed.
These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.
We now know that Visa, Mastercard and Paypal are instruments of US foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before.
I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral acts.
The latest cables reveal:
• British police helped to “develop evidence” against Madeleine McCann’s parents as they were investigated by Portuguese police as formal suspects in the disappearance of their daughter, according to the US ambassador to Portugal.
• The Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, was so worried about the health of the banks that he proposed a secret international fund to recapitalise them six months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
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