WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition hearing will continue next month despite his legal team's concerns about open justice and his health amid the UK's coronavirus lockdown.
Defence lawyers applied for the hearing to be delayed until September and prosecuting lawyers had a "neutral" stance in the Westminster Magistrates' Court.
District Judge Vanessa Baraister says the Australian's trial will resume on May 18 as planned with the court still scheduled to be open on that date.
"This is an unpredictable situation but I cannot assume the courts will not operating normally by then," she said.
"Mr Assange is in custody and there is some urgency of this case being heard to its conclusion."
Due to lockdown measures Tuesday's hearing took place in unusual circumstances with Assange reportedly unwell and no lawyers attending in person.
Instead Judge Baraister presided over a pair of telephones, with regular interruptions from robotic voices announcing people joining and leaving the conference call, with just five journalists and five members of the public in court.
Defence lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said it's near impossible to meet Assange inside the locked-down Belmarsh prison.
"It is not possible for us to take Mr Assange's instructions," he said.
"We're unable to fulfil our professional obligations to him."
The barrister warned that the press and the public wouldn't be able to observe the hearing if it went ahead next month.
He said it will put Assange at risk of coronavirus as he has to pass through communal areas of the prison to get to the court and the videolink room.
A least one prisoner from Belmarsh has died of coronavirus.
Mr Fitzgerald noted that the lockdown was taking a toll on the mental state of Assange, who suffers clinical depression.
"To force him to enter a full evidential hearing in May, we respectfully submit it would be unjust. We respectfully submit it would be oppressive," he said.
US government lawyer James Lewis was "neutral" on an adjournment, recognising there was "considerable practical difficulties" for the defence team.
Judge Baraister ruled against a deferral, but said she would review the viability of the May hearing closer to the date.
The judge also temporarily banned the publication of the name of Assange's partner.
The partner, who is the mother of Assange's young children, gave a written statement in his unsuccessful bail bid last week.
Mr Fitzgerald argued naming her would put her at risk of harm because US agents had once wanted to test her children's nappies for DNA when they were visiting Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy between 2012 and 2019.
But Judge Baraister said there was no evidence any US agency intended to harm the woman or the children, who are not yet school-aged.
The woman's name will be publishable from April 14 if Assange's lawyers fail to file for a judicial review.
The US government is trying to extradite Assange to face 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion over the leaking and publishing of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military files.
Some of those files revealed alleged US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US charges carry a total sentence of 175 years' imprisonment.
A brief hearing is set for Assange to meet his lawyers in the Woolwich Crown Court holding cells on April 22.
The main extradition hearing will resume on May 18.
Australian Associated Press
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