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No charges, but taskforce still looking at Assange

No charges, but taskforce still looking at Assange

The taskforce set up by the Federal Government to see whether Julian Assange could be charged with any Australian offences is still together.Attorney-General Robert McClelland established a…

The taskforce set up by the Federal Government to see whether Julian Assange could be charged with any Australian offences is still together.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland established a whole of government taskforce, including members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), in late November to determine whether Assange could be charged after Wikileaks began publishing over 250,000 official United States documents and diplomatic cables.

On 17 December, the Attorney-General announced that despite AFP investigations which noted "a number of offences which could be applied in the circumstances", it could not "identify any criminal offences where Australia had jurisdiction and as a result have not commenced an investigation".

"The government remains extremely concerned about the unauthorised and irresponsible distribution of classified material," McClelland said at the time.

Despite no formal investigations or charges being brought against Assange, the Attorney-General's Department confirmed with Lawyers Weekly that the taskforce is still in existence.

Legal groups, such as the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) and the Law Institute of Victoria, have long doubted whether Assange could be charged with breaches of Australian laws, and have questioned the motivation of the government in establishing the taskforce.

ALA director Greg Barns has labelled the taskforce "a complete waste of the AFP's time", and said the government was "seeking to cuddle up to Australia's closest ally (the USA)".

Associate Professor Katharine Gelber from the University of Queensland told Lawyers Weekly that Assange "was not even close" to breaching anti-terror legislation or committing offences relating to sedition laws.

"He has not argued or called for any acts of violence against any government, or any members of the community," said Gelber, the president of the Australian Political Studies Association and a member of the American Political Science Association. "I think some of the government's public statements have been ill advised as every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence."

Prime Minster Julia Gillard has previously said Assange had acted "illegally" by releasing the US documents.

On 16 December the United Kingdom High Court granted Assange bail in relation to the attempt by Swedish authorities to extradite him to face charges of rape and sexual molestation.

He is due back in court in the UK tomorrow (11 January).

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