LONDON: Britain’s Supreme Court has endorsed the extradition of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange to Sweden, bringing the secret-spilling Internet activist a big step closer to prosecution in a Scandinavian court.
But a question mark hung over the decision after Assange’s lawyer made the highly unusual suggestion that she would try to reopen the case, raising the prospect of more legal wrangling.
Assange, 40, has spent the better part of two years fighting attempts to send him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sex crime allegations. He has yet to be charged.
The U.K. side of that struggle came to an uncertain end Wednesday, with the nation’s highest court ruling 5-2 that the warrant seeking his arrest was properly issued — and Assange’s lawyer saying she might contest the ruling.
Supreme Court President Nicholas Phillips, reading out the verdict, acknowledged that coming to a conclusion in the high-profile case had “not been simple.”
Assange’s story has been shot through with international intrigue, online activism and scandal. But the case before the Supreme Court hinged on a narrow technicality: Did Swedish officials properly order his arrest?
His lawyers say “no.” A prosecutor, not a judge, issued the warrant, a practice they’ve described as arbitrary and unfair.
Swedish officials say “yes,” arguing that, in Sweden as in other European countries, prosecutors carry out a quasi-judicial function.
The Supreme Court came down on Sweden’s side Wednesday, with Phillips ruling that “the request for Mr. Assange’s extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed.”
But scarcely had Phillips finished speaking before Assange lawyer Dinah Rose was on her feet, complaining that the court’s ruling largely relied on a treaty whose interpretation she says she never had the chance to challenge.
In a surprise move, she requested extra time to study the judgment with an eye toward trying to reopen the case.
Phillips gave Rose two weeks to make a submission, meaning an extradition wouldn’t happen until the second half of June at the earliest.
Such a maneuver is practically unheard of, according to attorney Karen Todner, whose law firm handles many high-profile extradition cases.
“It’s very unusual,” she said. “I’ve never known them to reopen a case.”
Assange, a former computer hacker from Australia, shot to international prominence in 2010 with the release of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents, including a hard-to-watch video that showed U.S. forces gunning down a crowd of Iraqi civilians and journalists that they’d mistaken for insurgents.