It’s generally a coup for a conference organiser to snare a household name. But pity the committee that drew up the running order for last week’s Commonwealth Law Conference, which included a session featuring Julian Assange (via video link) on surveillance and security.
His appearance sparked a boycott by senior judges from across the UK. Judges from Scotland, England and Wales and the UK Supreme Court had agreed to speak at or chair other sessions but withdrew – in some cases after arriving at the conference centre in Glasgow.
The WikiLeaks founder has of course been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London (pictured) since losing his challenge to an extradition request from Sweden in 2012.
A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland explained: ‘The conference programme was changed to include Mr Assange’s participation at short notice and without consultation.
‘Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him. Under these circumstances the Lord President, Lord Gill, and the other Scottish judicial office holders in attendance have withdrawn from the conference.’
A spokesman for the UK Supreme Court added: ‘Lord Neuberger and Lord Hodge share the concerns expressed by Lord Gill and his fellow senior Scottish judges regarding the late addition of Mr Assange to the conference programme. As a result of this unfortunate development, they trust that delegates will understand their decision to withdraw from the conference.
‘The justices took this action regretfully, as they value greatly the work of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the role of the conference as an important forum for sharing experiences and good practice across the legal profession.’