Julian Assange can in principle challenge his extradition to the US before the UK Supreme Court. There, the Wikileaks founder is to be charged with espionage.
However, in today’s decision, the High Court judges did not allow him to appeal directly. Instead, the Supreme Court must first decide whether or not to deal with his complaint.
In December, the High Court ruled that Assange could be extradited to the United States. The judges overturned a different ruling in early 2021 based on concerns about Assange’s mental health and his suicide risk in a U.S. maximum-security prison. In December, however, the judges of the High Court followed the reasoning of the US authorities. They had previously pledged that Assange would not face such harsh measures unless he committed an act that required them in the future.
“We won in court today”
Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancee, said after Monday’s verdict that what happened in court was exactly what she and Assange’s supporters had hoped: “Now the Supreme Court must decide whether to hear the appeal. But we won in court today, that’s for sure.”
For an appeal to be considered by the Supreme Court, a case must raise a point of law of “general public importance”. Assange’s law firm, Birnberg Peirce, previously said the case raises “serious and important” legal issues – including those related to “trust” in US assurances about the conditions of detention Assange would face if extradited.
In their brief statement Monday, Justices Burnett and Holroyde, while ruling that the issue was a weighty legal issue, refused to appeal directly to Assange. For example, Assange raised three legal issues for the appeal to the Supreme Court, but the Wikileaks founder was only successful on one issue – that of the use of assurances in extradition proceedings. The final decision rests with the judges of the Supreme Court. Judge Burnett asked the court to “take steps to expedite the consideration of any subsequent application.”
“Julian must be released”
Speaking outside the courthouse, Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris told his supporters: “Until this case is dropped, as long as Julian is not released, he will continue to suffer – even every time we win in court.” He has been in Belmarsh Prison for almost three years, suffering tremendously – day after day, week after week, year after year. Julian must be released, and we hope that this will soon come to an end.” However, justice is still a long way off in this case, “because Julian has been imprisoned for so long and he shouldn’t have spent a single day in prison.” Because , according to Moris, “if there were justice, the crimes that Julian uncovered, namely war crimes and the killing of innocent civilians, would not be prosecuted.”
Nick Vamos, a partner at law firm Peters & Peters and a former head of extradition at Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, said: “There will be a bit of a surprise as there is settled case law on the issue that has been upheld. However, in its Dec. 10 ruling, the Supreme Court discussed the various circumstances in which representations may be considered on appeal, so it’s not entirely black and white.
The Supreme Court, according to Vamos, could well say that it is not interested in this point of law because it has already been resolved at the High Court level. “And even if the Supreme Court accepts the appeal, it could settle the legal position for future cases in a way that makes no difference to Assange’s appeal,” Vamos said.
Assange, who remains in prison, would have other options to fight his extradition, regardless of what happens to the Supreme Court appeal. Should the Wikileaks founder fail there, his lawyers could file a counterclaim at a lower court, which would first be heard in the High Court and would focus on issues of freedom of expression and the political motivation of the extradition request.