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Lawyers have a duty to speak out on Assange

Lawyers have a duty to speak out on Assange

Two of Australia's premier legal groups are locked in a verbal stoush over their views on Julian Assange and the rights of lawyers to speak out.Greg Barns, a director of the Australian Lawyers…

Two of Australia's premier legal groups are locked in a verbal stoush over their views on Julian Assange and the rights of lawyers to speak out.

Greg Barns, a director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, has said that lawyers "have a duty to speak out" against the treatment of Assange. This is in contradiction to statements from the Law Council of Australia (LCA) calling for lawyers and other public figures to desist from making any further comments on Assange.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Barns said that he was concerned with the LCA's stance.

"I was concerned and disappointed by the comments of the Law Council," Barns said. "The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right of all Australians, and that is something that politicians [in Australia] have disregarded in making comments about Assange in an effort to cuddle up to the Americans."

Earlier this week, the LCA released a statement saying that the "legal process should be allowed to take its course without interference to ensure that justice is served".

"Rule of law principles require that Mr Assange be dealt with by due process and the Law Council considers it to be inappropriate that public comments are made about his guilt or innocence," the statement said.

LCA president Glenn Ferguson also reiterated in the statement the right of any accused person to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial.

Assange was able to leave custody last night after a single judge of the British High Court upheld an earlier ruling granting him bail.

On his release, Assange thanked his legal team and supporters. He told the waiting media outside the court that "I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter as we reveal the evidence from these allegations".

Assange's release from custody on bail is a victory for his legal team, led by Geoffrey Robertson QC and including Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who is with the UK firm Finers Stephens Innocent, and London lawyer Mark Stephens.

As revealed in Lawyers Weekly on Wednesday, it was Melbourne barrister James Catlin who put Assange in contact with Robertson in October in anticipation that Swedish authorities would attempt to lay charges against the 39-year-old Australian.

Assange's bail was set at almost $320,000, and includes strict conditions including the wearing of an electronic tag.

It is believed his surety was paid by a number of high profile contributors, including film makers Ken Loach and Michael Moore.

Barns said that despite Assange's release on bail, which represents a victory for "sound legal process", he questions the actions of Swedish authorities, or British authorities acting on behalf of Swedish prosecutors, in opposing bail given the bail conditions are so strict.

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