WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night won leave to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court in his battle to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual impropriety.
Seven justices will hear his case over two days from February 1. A panel of three Supreme Court Justices last night said that seven would sit because the legal issue he had raised in his appeal was of great public importance.
Mr Assange’s lawyer had argued in a hearing before the High Court on December 5 that the European Arrest Warrant issued against him by Sweden was not valid because it had been issued by a prosecutor, and a prosecutor was not “a judicial authority”, as required under European law.
Mr Assange, 40, has spent almost a year on bail, fighting extradition over claims of rape and molestation by two Swedish women, relating to a visit to that country in August 2010. Sweden wants him to face questioning but has not issued any charges against him.
Mr Assange denies the claims and says the sex was consensual. He has claimed the sex crimes investigation is politically motivated by opponents of the WikiLeaks website. The allegations surfaced shortly after WikiLeaks released secret US files from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His lawyer Ben Summers, an expert in extradition and international law, argued at the earlier hearing that “the question of whether the prosecutor can be a judicial authority is debatable”.
He added that “a disproportionately high number of European arrest warrants found by this court to be unjust, oppressive, or abusive emanate from the prosecutors.”
Mr Summers said Mr Assange could have been questioned at any time by the Swedish prosecutors: “It’s not right that a final decision to prosecute can only be taken after Mr Assange has surrendered.”
Mr Summers said it would be beneficial if there was a decisive judgment on the question by the Supreme Court.
If Mr Assange loses this appeal, he might be extradited to Stockholm within 10 days. Alternatively, he might give notice that he wants to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If he won that right, he could apply to stay in Britain until that case was heard.
Mr Assange’s legal advisers are believed to be fighting the extradition partly because of fears that if he goes to Sweden, he could then be extradited to the United States, where prosecutors are considering criminal charges against him and where he might become involved in the case of Bradley Manning, a US army analyst suspected of disclosing secret intelligence to WikiLeaks.
First published on theage.com.au.