The extradition trial of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks publisher wanted in the U.S., will be split into two phases held a few months apart, a British judge ruled Thursday.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed during a pre-trial hearing held in London to hold extradition proceedings for Mr. Assange during a week next month and three weeks in May.
The judge’s decision was made at the request of lawyers on each side of the extradition battle who had asked the court for more time to prepare for the complex legal case.
“No one knew how long this would take, I don’t think anyone could have said then it would be longer than two weeks. We simply did not know,” said Clair Dobbin, a lawyer representing the U.S., the Australian Associated Press reported.
Edward Fitzpatrick, an attorney for Mr. Assange, similarly argued that more time was needed to review evidence recently provided by the prosecution, adding that the defense team has had a difficult time meeting with their client while he remains jailed at a high-security prison in London.
“Frankly madam, we are not now, because of all those matters coming in … we are not in a position where it would be fair to Mr. Assange to call the main body of evidence to go ahead,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, AAP reported.
The judge reluctantly agreed to split the extradition hearing into two parts, but she indicated she would frown upon any subsequent attempts to postpone proceedings, AAP reported.
“It is unlikely that I will look favorably on any further application for a delay,” said the judge, according to the outlet.
Extradition proceedings for Mr. Assange will begin as previously planned with a five-day hearing set to start Feb. 24, followed by a three-week-long round beginning May 18.
Mr. Assange, a 48-year-old Australian, has been criminally charged in the U.S. with 18 counts related to running WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website he helped launch in 2006, including violations stemming from his solicitation and publication of classified military and diplomatic documents. He has defended his conduct by arguing that he acted as a journalist.
“This is not about Julian Assange,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters following Thursday’s hearing. “It is about press freedom.”
Mr. Assange faces potentially decades behind bars in the U.S. if extradited and found guilty.