Assange: Big blow
London, May 30: Britain’s highest court ruled today that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, should be deported to Sweden to face allegations of sexual abuse there, the culmination of an 18-month legal battle.
By a 5-2 vote, the Supreme Court denied Assange’s appeal. The decision took less than five minutes to be read by Nicholas Phillips, the 74-year-old president of the court, in one of the most important decisions in his three years in the position and just months before his retirement. All seven judges were present.
The ruling turned on whether the Swedish prosecutor who made the extradition request was a competent “judicial authority” under the terms of the European Extradition Treaty. Judge Phillips, who voted with the majority, said the question “has not been easy to resolve”. The finding that the Swedish prosecutor was a competent authority resulted in the court’s decision that the extradition request “has been lawfully made”, he said.
Assange, who was delayed by heavy traffic, was not present for the decision, but there was an audible sigh from WikiLeaks supporters in the court as the ruling was read. Dinah Rose, one of Assange’s lawyers, immediately asked for a two-week delay in implementation of the decision, saying that the court appeared to have reached its decision on a fine point of European law that had not been raised by either side at an earlier Supreme Court hearing on the case.
The court granted that request, extending still further a case that has wound slowly through the justice systems since the Swedish extradition request was made in December 2010. Gareth Peirce, another lawyer for Assange, said that once the Supreme Court had considered that point, the Assange team would have seven days to formulate an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. At that point, only a specific stay from the European court would prevent Assange from being extradited.
In coming to their decision, the judges cited the specific meaning of “autorité judiciare”, the French legal phrase from which “judicial authority” was translated into British law.
The British government is now expected to announce an extradition date within 10 days. On the appointed date, Assange will be taken to a British airport and handed over to the Swedish authorities for transfer to Stockholm.
Though the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest, British prosecutors, acting for the Swedish authorities, have said Assange may have a final recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. If the Strasbourg court declines to take his case, he will have no choice but to return to Sweden for questioning on the sex allegations, likely within days.
Peirce said outside the court that the Assange legal team will “put in a written submission on the fact that the majority of judges have decided on a basis that was never argued in court by anyone” referring to the citation the judges made of the interpretation of the words “judicial authority” in the Vienna Convention.
Barely 12 hours before the Supreme Court’s ruling, WikiLeaks issued a statement asserting that Assange faced early moves by the US to extradite him on espionage charges from Britain, Sweden or Australia, depending on Assange’s whereabouts.
“WikiLeaks is under serious threat,” WikiLeaks said. “The US, UK, Swedish and Australian governments are engaging in a coordinated effort to extradite its editor in chief, Julian Assange, to the US to face espionage charges for journalistic activities.”
The statement cited reports that the Obama administration has obtained a sealed indictment charging Assange with espionage, as well as a range of other activities that WikiLeaks said pointed to plans to move against Assange as soon as the British court proceedings were completed.
The preparations include the empanelling of special task forces at the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI and the state department, and secret subpoenas it said had been served on Google, Twitter and other online services to obtain the “private data” of WikiLeaks staff and supporters, it said.
In effect, the four-page WikiLeaks document depicted the decision in London as a prelude to a much grimmer challenge awaiting Assange beyond his 18-month battle to avoid being extradited to Sweden on the sex abuse charges.
Lawyers in Sweden have said that he would likely face a stiff fine, or at the most a brief prison term, if he were convicted on the Swedish charges.