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Parts of the extradition proceedings thus far of Julian Assange have taken place in Woolwich Crown Court, others in the old Bailey, others like his post-triumph bail hearing and also monthly case management hearings and also the “approval” of the extradition order happened at Westminster magistrate’s court which is apparently statutorily designated to handle extradition request proceedings for England and Wales.

In most Criminal cases however, perhaps as an additional safeguard on people’s due Process rights, they have an option to elect for a crown court (ie jury) trial if they like. Why was this principle not available for Julian? (Or was it?)

Furthermore, why was the first iteration of his extradition proceedings (I gather based on the original indictment) at Woolwich crown court, when the proceedings related to the superseding and second superseding indictments were undertaken seemingly all at the old Bailey? Does this not imply that these “substantive” rather than “ceremonial” parts of the proceedings actually were at crown courts in both cases, including at the old Bailey / central criminal court? Even if so, why was the first iteration at Woolwich and the second in central London?

And finally, if it was in fact at a crown court in both cases, does that imply that there was a jury involved? (I assume not because then they would have been mentioned in many of the countless media reports on the proceedings. )

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Extradition is a special procedure that is tightly governed by statute - currently the Extradition Act 2003. That Act provides that, for extradition from England (as opposed to Scotland, etc.) to the United States (an example of a Category 2 Territory), an initial hearing is to take place before "the appropriate judge". This is, per s.139(1)(a), a designated "District Judge (Magistrates' Courts)". A DJMC sits in a magistrates' court, and is a professional judge as opposed to a layperson like an ordinary Justice of the Peace. The hearing is meant to resemble summary proceedings in the magistrates' court, but it has its own special rules. Those include a special appeals procedure which is different from the ordinary way that criminal cases can be appealed. Some things that could normally happen in a magistrates' court cannot happen here, such as varying an order at a later date (see R (Mann) v Westminster Magistrates Court [2010] EWHC 48 (Admin)).

The way that this is phrased means that the jurisdiction is not conferred on the magistrates' court (which happens to have a DJ sitting in it), but on the DJMC themselves. The Criminal Procedure Rules 2014, Rule 17.2(a) are careful to say that when they say "magistrates' court" in this context, they are talking about the court that the judge has convened for the purposes of the Extradition Act. These rules are only applicable because the Act specifically provides for them in its s.210; they don't come in automatically as they would for criminal proceedings in a magistrates' court, because this is a special process with its own law, as expounded in the Explanatory Notes to the rules.

In the Assange case, the DJMC was Vanessa Baraitser, including at Woolwich and the Old Bailey. The proceedings were under the Extradition Act as explained above.

The court chose to sit in various buildings, other than Westminster Magistrates Court, for practical reasons due to the high level of public interest in the case, and related security considerations. The hearing was booked to last four weeks, which is very unusually long. Proceedings were live-streamed to other court buildings to allow members of the public and media to follow along.

All of that does not mean that the proceedings were in a Crown Court or County Court. They were in buildings used by those courts, but took place before the designated DJMC according to the special procedure of the Extradition Act. That procedure, among other things, means that the extradition hearing cannot take place as a hearing of some other court, and there is no jury no matter how much the defendant wants one.

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  • Slight clarification, but not worthy of an edit IMO - there's only one Crown Court so should be proceeded by "the" not "a". Strictly speaking it's "the Crown Court sitting at..."
    – user35069
    Mar 26, 2023 at 19:27

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