Would Assange’s Stroke Have Mattered to the High Court?

If the High Court knew that Julian Assange suffered a stroke on Oct. 27, the first day of the U.S. appeal hearing, would it have altered the court’s decision to allow his extradition?, asks Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

News on Sunday that imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange suffered a stroke on Oct. 27 has raised the question of when the High Court knew about it and whether it would have influenced its ruling to overturn a lower court judgment, allowing his extradition to the United States.

Stella Moris, Assange’s financée and one of his lawyers, told the Mail on Sunday that doctors determined that the mini-stroke has left Assange with “a drooping right eyelid, memory problems and signs of neurological damage.”

The Mail reported:

“A ‘transient ischaemic attack’ – the interruption of the blood supply to the brain – can be a warning sign of a full stroke. Assange has since had an MRI scan and is now taking anti-stroke medication.

Ms Moris, 38, a lawyer, said: ‘Julian is struggling and I fear this mini-stroke could be the precursor to a more major attack. It compounds our fears about his ability to survive the longer this long legal battle goes on.'” 

Moris told the paper: “It urgently needs to be resolved. Look at animals trapped in cages in a zoo. It cuts their life short. That’s what’s happening to Julian. The never-ending court cases are extremely stressful mentally.”

She added:

“‘I believe this constant chess game, battle after battle, the extreme stress, is what caused Julian’s stroke on October 27. 

He was feeling really unwell, far too ill to follow the hearing, and he was excused by the judge but could not leave the prison video room.

‘It must have been horrendous hearing a High Court appeal in which you can’t participate, which is discussing your mental health and your risk of suicide and in which the US is arguing you are making it all up. 

‘He had to sit through all this when he should have been excused. He was in a truly terrible state. His eyes were out of synch, his right eyelid would not close, his memory was blurry.’

When Did High Court Know?

It is not clear when the High Court judges learned of this dangerous deterioration of the WikiLeaks founders’ health. His lawyers likely made submissions to the court in the weeks after the hearing, leading up to Friday’s ruling. 

In that ruling, the judges accepted lower court Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s determination that Assange was too ill to be extradited. The court rejected three of the U.S. grounds of appeal, which challenged the medical evidence. 

Confirmation of the stroke exposes the U.S. contention that Assange is a “malingerer” as a lie.  But the High Court did not accept that smear. 

The court also did not challenge the second pillar of Baraitser’s judgment against extradition: that prison conditions in the U.S. were too harsh and would lead to Assange’s suicide.   

The entire reason for overturning Baraitser and allowing the extradition was the High Court’s belief that the U.S. is sincere in promising not to put Assange into the worst of U.S. penal isolation:  Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) or into ADX Florence maximum security prison in Colorado. 

The court also bought the line that U.S. prison authorities would provide adequate health care for Assange. [A defense witness testified, however, that there are no permanent doctors at the Alexandria Detention Center where Assange would be held pre-trial.]

So would knowing that he had suffered a stroke have altered the High Court’s thinking, even though it had already accepted Assange’s medical diagnosis? Would adding knowledge of the stroke have changed anything?    

Burnett’s Remark

Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett Burnett. (Magistrate’s Association)

Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett was on the High Court in the Assange case as well as in 2018 when the court overturned the extradition order of hacktivist Lauri Love. Love was accused by the U.S. of hacking into U.S. government computers. Like Assange, Love suffered from depression and Asperger Syndrome; and like Assange he was deemed by the High Court to be at high risk of suicide if extradited.  However the court ruled against extraditing Love, and for extraditing Assange. Why?

The High Court found that Love also suffered from a physical ailment, namely eczema, that would be exacerbated with extradition.

The Burnett ruling overturning Love’s extradition said: 

“All the evidence is that this would be very harmful for his difficult mental conditions, Asperger Syndrome and depression, linked as they are; and for his physical conditions, notable eczema, which would be exacerbated by stress. That in turn would add to his worsening mental condition, which in its turn would worsen his physical conditions. There is no satisfactory and sufficiently specific evidence that treatment for this combination of severe problems would be available in the sort of prisons to which he would most likely be sent.”

[Noteworthy is that Burnett in this judgement said there is “no satisfactory and sufficiently specific evidence that treatment for this combination of severe problems would be available in the sort of prisons to which [Love] would most likely be sent.” Yet in the Assange case Burnett accepted the U.S. assurance that there would be such treatment available for Assange. Burnett also accepted, however, the U.S. assurance that Assange would not be sent to that “sort of prison.”]

James Lewis QC, the prosecutor for the U.S., argued, ironically on the day of the stroke, that the Love case was not a precedent for Assange because Love had suffered from physical ailments, where Assange had not. Lewis said the purely psychological test from the Turner v. Government of the USA case was applied in Assange’s case, but not in Love’s.

On the following day, Assange lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC, made a strong argument that the Love case was indeed a precedent for Assange. He pointed out that both Love and Assange were diagnosed with depression and Asperger Syndrome, which increases a risk of suicide. Fitzgerald said the High Court in Love had looked into the future to see that extradition to the U.S. would be oppressive because of the high risk of suicide. 

At that point Burnett interrupted Fitzgerald from the bench. “It is a completely different case,” he said.  According to former SBS Australian news presenter Mary Kostakidis, who viewed the appeal hearing via a video-link, Burnett said Love was different because he had a physical ailment, namely eczema. 


Burnett did not show up for the reading of the summary judgment on Friday at the High Court.

A Very Serious Physical Ailment

If indeed a physical ailment is the main legal matter separating Love from Assange then that would seem to change with the news that Assange had a stroke. The High Court may have considered that new evidence, though, because there are no physical ailments mentioned in Baraitser’s decision on Assange that was before the High Court. 

In the end it probably would not have mattered. The High Court ruling accepted all of the medical evidence about Assange’s psychological condition and still ruled he should be extradited. That probably would not have changed had a stroke been added to his medical status before the ruling.

That is because despite accepting the medical evidence, the High Court ruled for extradition solely on the basis of the U.S. assurances that Assange would not be put into SAMs and that he would receive adequate medical treatment, presumably for a stroke too. 

There is another difference between Love and Assange. Love was expendable to the United States. Assange is not. He is Too Big to Free. By reporting the truth, Assange has threatened the legitimacy of an entire system built on lies. The British judiciary is part of that system.

It is very unlikely that knowledge of the stroke would have made any difference to the High Court.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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25 comments for “Would Assange’s Stroke Have Mattered to the High Court?

  1. Me Myself
    December 14, 2021 at 18:00

    They knew… They had their popcorn out while watching surveillance footage of him.

  2. Andrew Nichols
    December 13, 2021 at 16:13

    No of course not. Thw Empire must be served.

  3. Vera Gottlieb
    December 13, 2021 at 11:57

    If I would be in court I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at a magistrate looking like this.

  4. AElfwineNerevar
    December 13, 2021 at 10:29

    This is England
    We can chain you to the rail
    This is England
    We can kill you in a jail

    -Joe Strummer

  5. robert e williamson jr
    December 12, 2021 at 21:01

    Such a tragedy. The authorities could have released Julian and over time maybe reaped benefits from his knowledge. Instead they are proving that you cannot under any circumstances kill an idea . Especially one that is applauded by the masses.

    This will not end well for these criminals who pervert the law in this manner. And for what? A bogus, ‘deity like claim’ that only they are worthy of judging truth.

  6. Andrew Nichols
    December 12, 2021 at 17:14

    The appeal was just the latest minor bit of farce. Had this been a proper legal process from the outset, any one of the well documented violations of normal process would have ended it abruptly. The Brit justice system and the media have extinguished any last vestige of credibility they may have undeservedly had as state independent institutions

  7. Willow
    December 12, 2021 at 16:06

    Compromat blackmail is the only explanation for these inhumane rulings.

  8. December 12, 2021 at 15:21

    I wonder if news of the stroke could create a basis for pressuring Biden to drop the case. If Assange is now fuzzy headed and disabled in other ways how much of a threat can he be?

    • Andrew Nichols
      December 13, 2021 at 16:16

      Hes not a threat. His fate to be the 21st century Man in the Iron Mask is nothing more than a naked demonstration to investigative journalists worldwide that the crimes of the Washington Empire must stay secret to sustain endless war.

  9. Anonymotron
    December 12, 2021 at 15:04

    Request a story re: hospital jail prisoner conditions/resources.
    CN coverage most adherent 2 US stated (but not followed) principles.

    *Note: not 4 publication tnx

  10. GMCasey
    December 12, 2021 at 14:38

    I wonder why the USA didn’t arrest the writers at the Guardian for using and working with Julian Assange’s written material too?
    If the Guardian used Julian’s material and the UK didn’t care—why do they want to send Julian Assange to prison now?
    Why didn’t Australia speak up for its citizen—-oh wait, maybe they got a better submarine deal then?
    Why doesn’t the US ask for the Guardian staff to be hidden away in prison to die too?
    Why does the UK see Julian so wrong and the Guardian so untouchable?
    The military lies, the government lies ,the USA president lies and the UK lies.

    I wonder why none of these nations realizes that with so many lies—credibility dies everywhere.

    There doesn’t appear to be any of these nations concerned about “establishing justice.: Why is that?

  11. Dennis Nilsson
    December 12, 2021 at 13:25

    “Democracy” and “human rights” are only used when it serve their purpose, it has been weaponized against others.

  12. Cara
    December 12, 2021 at 13:14

    Assange is indeed “too big to free.” He knows far too much. Moreover he can’t be brought to the U.S. where his presence would unleash a constitutional crisis. The U.S. needs him to die in Belmarsh and that is exactly what the Biden DOJ is orchestrating.

  13. Theresa Barzee
    December 12, 2021 at 12:10

    We can no longer assume any decency exists, if it ever did in our sociopathic, paid-off officials. This news is heart breaking. Assange cannot take anymore. Please send Nils Meltzer’s book to everyone with power over us in this case. And the mug (from wikileaks?!) that reads “I killed Assange.” This is what these malicious, ignorant damaged beings want. Let’s put their names & photos alongside every “mug.”

  14. December 12, 2021 at 11:38

    What do the US people know about democracy when they have been living under corporate feudalism for nearly 250 years?

  15. December 12, 2021 at 11:35

    US and its allies will be judged by how they treat Assange.

    • rosemerry
      December 12, 2021 at 13:32

      Unfortunately we can see already how many “Westerners” seem to support the USA’s cruelty and violence, and its selection of adversaries to pound into the ground. Why are the USA?NATO so obsessive about a distant, former USSR republic of no possible danger to them? Why use nonsensical “evidence” of China’s alleged genocide of the Uighurs from ONE fanatically anti-communist, “evangelical Christian” who has never been to China (Adrian Zenz)? Xinjiang province happens to be a vital part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and is also a big export producer.
      Iran asks for removal of the illegal sanctions enforced by Trump and Biden before agreeing to rejoin JCPOA. That is unreasonable?? Now Israel wants the USA to join in bombing Iran. How can all this be reported always as if the USA is correct, in all the US and UK (and French too) mass media, word for word.

      • maggie harrisin
        December 12, 2021 at 15:56

        Well said..its like an extremely bad novel, that could never be true! I find I can never trust High Court Judges
        again, as its obvious, they are playing to a certain audience!
        From the start with Emma Arbuthnot, whose husband, former Minister for Defence, Director of SC Strategy,
        which is owned by the former Head of MI6, this was no ordinary trial, when these people, had a stake in the Case!Emma Arbuthnot s son,Alexander .Arbuthnot, is Chief Magistrate at Westminster and in charge, of
        Assange s extradition….such a cosy little “ Revenge” project given the go ahead by, who knows, but, revenge
        is at the centre of this! The rule of Law has failed here and in 9 minutes, this world renowned Publisher, was given a life sentence for giving us the truth! If this is allowed to go ahead, UK will become a creature of US!

  16. Skip Edwards
    December 12, 2021 at 11:26

    “By reporting the truth, Assange has threatened the legitimacy of an entire system built on lies. The British judiciary is part of that system.”

  17. Henry Smith
    December 12, 2021 at 11:10

    Corrupt UK stitch-up to ensure Assange is dispatched to the USA. The primary players:
    “Sir” Keir Starmer – head of CPS responsible for kicking off the process.
    “Sir” Alan Duncan – responsible for the kidnap from the Ecuadorean Embassy.
    “Sir” Ian Burnet – responsible for approving state sanctioned rendition to the USA. Best friends with Alan Duncan.
    Truth, compassion and justice is a foreign country to the establishment knights of the realm in the UK.

    • Piotr Berman
      December 13, 2021 at 08:41

      As Robert Wursthaus, December 12, 2021 at 11:16, the cast includes a little crowd of Australian, not deserving to be named individually, who could at least bargain a house arrest for the fellow citizen, and quite possibly more. Seems that the local big shots there hate Assange as well.

  18. Consortiumnews.com
    December 12, 2021 at 10:29

    The stroke may help Assange get bail. It would only be humane to allow him to recover at home and receive the adequate medical attention that a prison cannot provide.

  19. JonT
    December 12, 2021 at 09:33

    I think that the penultimate paragraph sums it all up really. The fact that Assange has been set up is obviously all too evident. A huge abuse of power by the so called “democratic” Authorities. If the UK Home Secretary has a shred of decency left, now is the time to act and end this and end it now.

    • Robert Wursthaus
      December 12, 2021 at 11:16

      Assange, a decent man. Totally abandoned by his country, Australia. Another corrupt, mindless regime under control of Washington.

      • rosemerry
        December 12, 2021 at 13:34

        I think of AUKUS, the gang of three cruel murderous “democracies”.

Comments are closed.