EDITOR – In January, human rights activists, journalists and lawyers attended the Belmarsh Tribunal conference in Washington DC to discuss assaults to press freedom in countries and of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s case, in his fourth year in London’s Belmarsh prison – after seven years under the protection of Ecuador’s London embassy from 2012 to 2019.
Tensions rose over the years due to his alleged difficult behaviour as embassy employees described it, from the stress of his situation. His supporters say it wasn’t true. The then President of Ecuador was a supporter of his.
The next President (of Ecuador) was not. His computer was removed from him at some stage when the embassy believed he was gathering information on them to use as leverage if they tried to force him to leave. Whether this is true or not, he was expelled from the embassy and the British police immediately arrested him in 2019 for breaking his bail conditions years before.
A UK court in April 2022 agreed to his extradition on espionage charges to the US and the Home Secretary later signed off on his extradition. The US charge is of his conspiring to access classified US Department of Defence files. His appeal against extradition is ongoing.
Tom Stoppard’s 1978 play Night and Day about the importance of freedom of the press had British actor John Thaw play a photo-journalist saying ‘I’ve been all round the world and I’ve seen people do terrible things to other people, but it’s always worse in the dark – information is light.’
On the other hand, others say he was reckless to the danger of exposing undercover US and other country’s intelligence and diplomat employees in dangerous or sensitive situations and of not restricting publication of those files.
The Belmarsh Tribunal conferences in New York in 2022 and in Washington DC were to remind us of those who take big risks in revealing hidden government actions or of no actions regarding abuses of power with no accountability.
Government security agencies need careful supervision, and equally, there are limits and responsibilities to how far we can go with freedom of speech and information.
Julian Assange is 11 years with no freedom. His health has greatly suffered. The Washington Post, while mindful of dangers to freedom of the press, concluded he has to be accountable for publishing classified information that put the country’s security at risk.
This is not a straightforward case. If his appeal against extradition fails, he will face trial in the US and years in prison. It could be a hard road ahead.
He is an Australian citizen. The current Australian government said they will use diplomacy to ensure he will be treated well, if extradited to the US and not to be subjected to a possible, harsh prison regime.
Laughing stock of EU with our ‘leprechaun legal aid’
EDITOR – Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will. Fear that there is no future in a profession must no longer be met by an ‘ah sure we’ll wait and see’ attitude.
The Irish State has turned its back on the future of barristers practising at district court level by withholding the overdue restoration of cuts imposed long ago in that time of financial emergency.
Law students need to know the odds are stacked against them. The certainty of failure has arrived before they even start becoming our future.
In March and April 2022, barristers in Ireland gathered at entrances to courthouses countrywide to mark their concerns about fees paid to barristers practising in the district court under the criminal legal aid scheme. There, potential sentences of up to two years imprisonment are at stake.
On May 2nd 2023 barristers will again mark the failure of the Irish State to honour its Rule of Law obligations in criminal legal aid funding.
Any accused qualifying for legal aid defence services must be entitled to have those services adequately funded. Fee rates from 2002 cannot provide that funding. We must be the laughing stock of the European Union. Leprechaun legal aid!
LLB Barrister at Law,
The Law Library,
Criminal Courts of Justice,
Parkgate Street, Dublin 8.
SDs have good record on animal protection
EDITOR – I’m delighted to hear that the Social Democrats have almost doubled their poll ratings.
Other parties that promised to ‘break the mould in Irish politics’ have come and gone, but I sincerely hope that the SDs may succeed.
While the party will be scrutinised on all its policies and its overall performance in the Oireachtas and at county council level, I especially admire, as an animal protection campaigner, its steadfast opposition to the barbarism of live hare coursing and the scandal whereby State funding props up a cruel greyhound industry that is unfit for purpose and in terminal decline.
Holly Cairns has brilliantly articulated why not a cent of our money should go to an industry that is past its sell-by date and has far too many questions to answer about the fate of dogs that no longer make the grade or have outlived their value as racers.
Jennifer Whitmore has similarly shone a light on the indefensible practice of capturing timid little hares in our countryside and setting dogs on them for fun. The big parties have shamefully facilitated these activities against the wishes of the majority of Irish people who, according to polls, favour an end to coursing, and the defunding of the industry.