An attempt by the Kremlin to place an English judge on a sanctions blacklist banning him from entering Russia has led to the collapse of a Supreme Court case.

Mr Justice Jonathan Swift had presided over a case involving British video blogger Graham Phillips, whose assets were sanctioned and frozen by the Foreign Office last year because of his pro-Russian views. He claims the lawsuit is an “Orwellian” violation of his freedom of speech.

But at the final hearing last Monday, Judge Swift, one of the most eminent judges on the London bench, said he would resign after discovering he had been placed on a Russian sanctions list with around 25 British nationals.

The list includes academics, military and politicians as well as journalists whom the Kremlin classifies as anti-Russian. It was created in retaliation for the British government’s sanctions on Russians – including many wealthy oligarchs – after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which froze their bank accounts and seized assets.

Mr Phillips, who now lives in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine, was once described in a Lords debate as a “pro-Russian propagandist”.

Graham Phillips was sanctioned by the Foreign Office last year and had his assets frozen because of his pro-Russian views.

The former official, who was sanctioned in July 2022 when Liz Truss was still foreign secretary, says the move should be overturned. His lawyer, Joshua Hitchens, argues that the sanctions constitute an infringement on Mr. Phillips’ freedom of expression.

He remains the only British citizen ever to be sanctioned by his own government.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard that the British Embassy in Moscow had informed the Foreign Office in London on November 8th that Mr Justice Swift had been placed on Russia’s sanctions list, but he had only been informed of this on November 22nd.

Putin’s blacklist includes academics, military officers and politicians as well as journalists whom the Kremlin classifies as anti-Russian

Mr Phillips’ lawyer responded by saying that the direct contact between the judge and the Foreign Office – the defendant in the High Court dispute – meant he could no longer preside.

However, Mr Justice Swift rejected this and disputed claims by Mr Phillips’ lawyers that there may have been “private communications intended to influence my decision”.

However, he decided to withdraw from the case, stating: “The overall effect was that my ability to run this case was undermined.”

“The hearing of this lawsuit will take place before a different judge from the beginning.”

Neither the Foreign Office nor the Ministry of Justice provided an explanation for what happened.

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