Assange’s appeal fails: extradition lawful – everything left to play for

A Swedish public prosecutor had issued a European arrest warrant (EAW) for Julian Assange, founder and editor in chief of Wikileaks. Assange, in London at the time, appealed against extradition to Sweden under the EAW on a point of law. Under UK law an EAW must be issued by a ‘judicial authority’ within the meaning of the Extradition Act 2003. Assange’s defense team claimed that a ‘prosecutor’ is not a judicial authority, and that the EAW was therefore not lawfully issued.

The supreme court, however, ruled that the Extradition Act was the result of a European Union framework decision, and that the original framework decision was delivered in both English and French. In France, a public prosecutor is very clearly considered to be part of the judicial authority, and that therefore, concluded the supreme court, the EU had intended that a public prosecutor should legally be allowed to issue EAWs.

On this basis, Assange’s appeal was dismissed. Lord Hale and Lady Mance had disagreed, believing “that the meaning of the framework decision was unclear and that the supreme court should not construe a UK statute contrary both to its natural meaning and to the evidence of what parliament thought it was doing at the time.”

But it’s not quite done and dusted yet. The supreme court had come to its decision based on a point of law in the Vienna Convention on the Interpretation of Treaties. This issue had not been previously raised, giving Assange’s team no opportunity to argue an alternative interpretation. Counsel for the defense, Dinah Rose, immediately requested a delay of execution (ie, the extradition) to allow time to confer with Assange to decide whether to ask for the case to be re-opened on this basis – and was granted 14 days.

“This is a very unusual thing,” said legal commentator Joshua Rozenburg on the BBC. “It’s not happened since this court was set up. It happened in the Pinochet case in the House of Lords. Very unusual, and means there's everything left to play for still.”


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