United Kingdom

Julian Assange's lawyer complains about lack of access to Wikileaks founder at HMP Belmarsh

Julian Assange's lawyer today complained about lack of access to the Wikileaks founder at the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison.

The 48-year-old is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets between January and May 2010. 

Assange appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court today wearing a black suit, defiantly saluting his supporters by raising his fist above his head.

It also emerged that the hearing to decide whether Assange can be extradited from Britain to the US will be split into two, with the second half not finishing until June. 

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court on January 13

A demonstrator supporting Julian Assange wears a mask and chains outside the court today

The Australian is being held at the maximum-security jail in Thamesmead, South East London and was transported from his cell early this morning.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Assange, said instructing solicitors had continued to work 'night and day' over Christmas.

But he added: 'We've had great difficulties in getting into Belmarsh to take instructions from Mr Assange and to discuss the evidence with him.'

Mr Fitzgerald continued: 'We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction.'

'The prosecution have now served us evidence on Saturday and due to the timetable, we understand there is more to come.

'We understand there is psychological evidence to be served during the trial. All of that material raises points we need time to deal with. 

Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange erect banners at the court in London today

A supporter of the Wikileaks founder hands out flyers to commuters outside the court today

'We need to deal with points raised in the US Attorney General's statement. The reality is we are not ready to call the main body of our evidence.

'Obviously we regret that, but in the end the priority is fairness to the defendant.

'As the High Court says it is the duty of the defence counsel to seek an adjournment rather than to say at a later stage we did not have enough time.

'A witness is being called in relation to publication that is not yet available. There are problems with Spanish witnesses about their anonymity.'

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said: 'He will remain in custody in the cells until you have indicated to this court that you have concluded such matters as you were able to manage.'

Assange's full extradition hearing will be heard at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court on February 24 and will last up to four weeks.

Supporters of Assange gather outside Westminster Magistrates' Court for the hearing today

Assange is being held at Belmarsh Prison in Thamesmead, South East London (file picture)

But the hearing will sit for one week in February and three weeks from May 18 because the case is not completely ready.

Assange was jailed for 50 weeks last May for breaching his bail conditions after going into hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex offence allegations, which he has always denied.

In November Swedish authorities dropped the rape allegations made in 2010.

Assange has been in custody since he was dramatically removed from Ecuador's embassy building last April.

He will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on February 19 via video link ahead of the full extradition hearing.