LONDON // Lawyers for the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, will meet in London tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to prevent his extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges.
The UK’s Supreme Court cleared the way for Mr Assange’s extradition today when, by a five to two majority, the judges rejected his appeal against the legality of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued almost two years ago in Stockholm.
His legal team, however, was given two weeks to decide its next move.
Tomorrow, his lawyers will consider taking the unprecedented step of asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case because the judges partially based their decision on points of international law that neither Mr Assange’s barristers nor those representing the Swedes had argued during the appeal this year.
Mr Assange, whose organisation’s leaks of US diplomatic cables in 2010 caused embarrassment to governments worldwide, was not in court to hear today’s judgment. He was stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam.
The 40-year-old Australian is wanted in Sweden on charges of allegedly raping one woman and “sexually molesting and coercing” another when he attended a conference in Stockholm in August 2010. He denies the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated.
His supporters fear that, once in Sweden, Mr Assange will be extradited to the US to face trial on charges of leaking military secrets.
At the heart of Mr Assange’s appeal was his lawyers’ contention that Swedish prosecutors who issued the EAW did not constitute a proper “judicial authority” under the terms of Britain’s 2003 Extradition Act. In the UK, only a judge or magistrate is regarded as such an authority with power to issue a warrant.
However, lawyers for the Swedes argued that in many countries throughout Europe, prosecutors’ offices possessed the judicial authority to issue EAWs.
Mr Assange’s legal team will discuss whether or not an application can be made for the case to be reconsidered by the Supreme Court because some of the judges’ decisions were based on the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an UN agreement setting out cross-border implementation of legal treaties.
Dinah Rose, the lead barrister in the Assange team, said after the ruling that the Vienna Convention had not figured in arguments presented to the court by either side during the January appeal hearing and, therefore, she had had no opportunity to counter them.
Normally, an application to have the case reopened would have to be made within seven days but, because of this weekend’s four-day, national holiday to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, the judges agreed to give Mr Assange’s lawyers 14 days.
Even if the Supreme Court refuses to reopen the case, Mr Assange still has the option of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
However, legal experts have doubted the court would accept the case. “He could only take it to the ECHR on the grounds that, if extradited, his trial would be a flagrant denial of justice,” one lawyer said.
“That might be an argument if you were facing extradition to a Third World military dictatorship, but scarcely to a country like Sweden.”