Assange Judge Worked for MI6 & Defence Ministry


by Mark Curtis and John McEvoy, Consortium News:

As with previous judges who have ruled on the WikiLeaks publisher’s case, Justice Jeremy Johnson raises concerns about institutional conflicts of interest, write Mark Curtis and John McEvoy.

One of the two High Court judges who will rule on Julian Assange’s bid to stop his extradition to the U.S. represented the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Ministry of Defence, Declassified has found.


Justice Jeremy Johnson has also been a specially vetted barrister, cleared by the U.K. authorities to access top-secret information.

Johnson will sit with Dame Victoria Sharp, his senior judge, to decide the fate of the WikiLeaks co-founder. If extradited, Assange faces a maximum sentence of 175 years.

His persecution by the U.S. authorities has been at the behest of Washington’s intelligence and security services, with whom the U.K. has deep relations.

Assange’s journalistic career has been marked by exposing the dirty secrets of the U.S. and U.K. national security establishments. He now faces a judge who has acted for, and received security clearance from, some of those same state agencies.

As with previous judges who have ruled on Assange’s case, this raises concerns about institutional conflicts of interest.

Exactly how much Johnson has been paid for his work for government departments is not clear. Records show he was paid twice by the Government Legal Department for his services in 2018. The sum was over £55,000.

Briefed by MI6

Justice Johnson became a deputy High Court judge in 2016 and a full judge in 2019. His biography states he has been “often acting in cases involving the police and government departments”.

As a barrister, in 2007 he represented MI6 as an observer during the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed.

Johnson worked alongside Robin Tam QC, previously described by legal directories as a barrister who “does an enormous amount of often sensitive work” for the U.K. government.

Life-sized sculpture of Diana and Fayed releasing an albatross at Harrod’s department store in London. (jwhalifax, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

At the time, Foreign Office sources could not recall “a previous occasion when MI6 [had] appointed lawyers to an inquest”.

MI6 was reportedly “so concerned by possible revelations” during the inquest that Johnson was appointed to “sit in on the hearing”.

He reportedly received a brief from MI6 in advance of the inquest, and was tasked with providing “such assistance as the coroner may require”.

Defending the Ministry

Johnson has also represented the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) on at least two occasions.

In 2013, he acted for the department during the high-profile Al-Sweady inquiry, which looked into allegations that “British soldiers torture and unlawfully killed Iraqi prisoners” in 2004.

The MoD’s lawyers said the Iraqi allegations were a “product of lies” and that those making the claims “were guilty of a criminal conspiracy”.

Johnson argued there was “compelling and extensive and independent forensic evidence” to refute the case. The five-year inquiry, which cost around £25 million, exonerated the British troops.

Johnson also acted for the MoD in 2011, in an appeal case against Shaun Wood, a Royal Air Force (RAF) serviceman.

Wood had the previous year won his case claiming compensation against the MoD, arguing his neurological condition akin to Parkinson’s disease was caused by exposure to organic solvents while serving in the RAF.

The judge upheld Wood’s claim against the MoD, which had admitted a breach of duty but disputed that this had caused the damage claimed by him.

‘Highest Security Clearance’

North door of the Ministry of Defence headquarters in London. (Harland Quarrington, Defence Imagery, Flickr)

Johnson was appointed by the attorney general to be a “special advocate” in around 2007, Declassified understands. These are specially vetted barristers who act for the purpose of hearing secret evidence in a closed court.

Special advocates “must undergo and obtain Developed Vetting (the highest level of HM Government security clearance) prior to their appointment”, government guidance states.

Developed Vetting is required for individuals having “frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets or require any access to TOP SECRET codeword material”.

In 2016, Johnson acted as a special advocate in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan national who accused the U.K. government and MI6 of participating in kidnapping him and his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar.

The U.K. government later apologised for its actions that contributed to Belhaj and Bouchar’s rendition, detention and torture.

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