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‘Keep our geeks!’: Protesters descend on High Court as new Lord Chief Justice hears Lauri Love extradition case

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Should suspected hacker, who has Asperger’s and depression, be sent to the USA for trial?

The Lord Chief Justice’s courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) was jam-packed with spectators in Lauri Love T-shirts this morning, as the judiciary’s head honcho considered whether the suspected hacker should be extradited to the United States of America for trial on 13 criminal charges

The sheer number of “Trump can’t get me” and “Keep our geeks” signs outside the iconic court building set the tone for what is far from a run-of-the-mill High Court case. One protester told me the case was so important he’d “effectively come out of retirement” to work on it.

Less frantic but just as busy inside, the Lord Chief Justice, Ian Burnett, sat alongside Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley to hear the strikingly titled Love v Government of the United States of America. Representing Love (pictured below) was Edward Fitzgerald QC, from Doughty Street Chambers, who argued that the decision to send his client across the Atlantic, made by a Westminster Magistrates’ Court district judge, was wrong.

Lauri Love

Love — who is accused of a series of cyber attacks against US websites and computer systems and denies all wrongdoing — suffers from long-standing Asperger’s syndrome, eczema, asthma and depression. In the words of his father, Love, from Suffolk, “fell apart” while he was at sixth form, returning home after dropping out of the University of Nottingham a “mental and physical wreck”. Old case papers, tracing the claimant’s time at a new university, continue: “During Mr Love’s second year at Glasgow University his mental health deteriorated so badly his parents had to collect him and bring him home. He has told his parents that if it were not for them he would have killed himself.”

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Thirty-two-year-old Love’s mental health is of continuing concern to the court. Fitzgerald conceded there’s a “severe risk of suicide” if his client is extradited. This would have terrible effects not just for Love and his loved ones; Fitzgerald said:

“If he commits suicide, they’ll be no trial and no satisfaction for the victims.”

The court at first instance had concluded that while Love does have both physical and mental health issues, District Judge Nina Tempia was satisfied there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure he gets the treatment he needs. The judgment reads:

“I have found the medical facilities in the US prison estate on arrival and during any sentence if he is convicted available to him are such that I can be satisfied his needs will be comprehensively met by the US authorities.”

Rather eerily, the submissions later included a long discussion about Love’s chances of and ability to kill himself in an American prison. Fitzgerald robustly argued to Ouseley — who heard Julian Assange’s extradition case — and Burnett that Love would “quite easily” be able to commit suicide in a general population prison or while in solitary confinement. Being placed on suicide watch would make it more difficult for him, but there’s no guarantee he’d be observed at all times.

Even if the court could be made content the claimant would not commit suicide in the destination state, Fitzgerald argued extradition of itself could breach Love’s Article 3 (prohibition against torture and degrading treatment) right. The two likely consequences of extradition, Fitzgerald said, are: suicide, or the serious deterioration of Love’s mental and physical health. Of course, there’s also the potential imposition of a “sky high” prison sentence; 99 years has been mentioned several times. Fitzgerald said:

“This is exceptional hardship. It’s a case involving a very vulnerable person with a whole host of conditions that have been found to exist by the district judge on indisputable evidence.”

It is right his case is heard on home soil not only as “a matter of humanity”, but law and precedent too, Love’s legal team argues.

Time and time again, Fitzgerald argued, UK citizens accused of causing “spectacular damage” to the US through hacking have been tried here, so: “We are not asking you to take a trip of Mars” in deciding Love should be tried in the UK.

One such case in our minds today was Gary McKinnon, a Scottish man who in 2002 was accused of a hacking into nearly 100 US military and NASA computers. He claimed he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

Like Love, he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Theresa May, then Home Secretary, blocked his extradition to the US. “McKinnon is accused of serious crimes,” she concluded, “but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill.”

Will a similar decision be reached in Love’s case? The hearing continues until tomorrow.

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