THE WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has lost his final appeal in a British court and faces extradition to Sweden where he is accused of rape and sexual assault.
But the Supreme Court gave Mr Assange a stay of 14 days on the extradition order so his lawyer, Dinah Rose, QC, could apply to have the proceedings reopened. She said the judgment was partly based on a legal question that had not been raised during the hearing and which she had not had a chance to argue. She said this related to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Mr Assange did not appear in court. Supporters later said he had been stuck in traffic.
In a majority decision of five to two, the judges decided that the European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden asking for Mr Assange’s extradition was legal and should be enforced.
If the court does not allow its proceedings to be re-opened, his only other legal avenue would be the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If that court should agree to take his case, he would be allowed to remain in Britain until the hearing.
The sex allegations relate to a visit to Stockholm that Mr Assange made in August 2010 when he had encounters with two women. One later complained to police that he had not used a condom, despite her insistence, and another that he had had sex with her while she was asleep. Mr Assange strongly denies the claims and says the encounters were fully consensual.
Outside the court, one of his solicitors, Gareth Peirce, said: “The judgment speaks for itself. The judges were clearly divided.”
The legal situation over European extradition warrants was “chaotic” and the British Parliament had implemented the law without understanding its implications. The journalist and lawyer John Pilger said: “I think the judgment was quite extraordinary in that it appears that the British Parliament has been misled by ministers and put forward this legislation based on English law, whereas most of Europe had looked at it in terms of European law. There is massive confusion.”
Mr Pilger said, “If it can happen to Julian Assange it can happen to any journalist.”
The Australian-born Mr Assange has been on bail with an electronic security monitor on his leg for more than a year after having been detained in December 2010 on a European Arrest Warrant. His legal team had argued that the warrant was not valid because it had been issued by a prosecutor and not a judge. A prosecutor was not a “judicial authority” as required by English law, they said.
The president of the court, Lord Justice Phillips, said the question had been difficult but the majority decided Britain’s Extradition Act was based on a European framework in which “judicial authority” was intended to include prosecutors such as the one who issued Mr Assange’s warrant. The European Arrest Warrant was introduced after the September 11 attacks in the US. Critics say it allows people to be moved from one European country to another without any requirement to show evidence.
One of Mr Assange’s lawyers had argued he was being persecuted, not prosecuted, because governments had been embarrassed by an avalanche of secret documents released by WikiLeaks. But a Swedish lawyer rejected the claim and said the women were victims.
Mr Assange’s team fears that if he goes to Sweden he could then be extradited to the US, where authorities are considering a range of charges against him over WikiLeaks including espionage and conspiracy.
American authorities link him to the US Army Private Bradley Manning, who faces court martial over 22 alleged offences, including “aiding the enemy” by leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
US prosecutors reportedly believe Private Manning dealt directly with Mr Assange and “data-mined” secret databases “guided by WikiLeaks’ list of ‘Most Wanted’ leaks”.
Mr Pilger said Mr Assange should be protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing free speech. He accused the Obama Administration of “concocting” the case.First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.