Assange and the Supreme Court decision

The extradition of an alleged rapist comes another step nearer

The Supreme Court has decided, by a majority of 5 to 2, that the European Arrest Warrant issued in respect of Julian Assange is valid.  This means that it is highly likely that Assange will now be extradited to Sweden for questioning in respect of allegations of rape and sexual assault - allegations which he denies.

Any extradition will not be immediate.  Assange’s legal team have been given fourteen days to apply for the Supreme Court to consider argument on the application of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which in this case may affect the class of entities which can issue the warrants.  Depending on the interpretation of the relevant part of the Vienna Convention, it may not be that a prosecutor rather than a judicial body can issue an EAW.   

Assange’s legal team contend that this point was not subject to argument at the appeal hearing at the Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court indeed had no oral or written submissions on the Vienna Convention at all, then it would be a remarkable oversight for the judges to have then relied on it by entirely their own motion.  As only the parties and the court will currently know what was submitted in written “skeleton” arguments, it is not yet clear the extent to which the point being made here is actually a good one.    If the application of the Vienna Convention has not been subject to legal argument in this appeal then it certainly should be, as it is clear from the judgments that at least two judges in the majority relied on it in their decision. 

The leading legal blogger Carl Gardner has also set out other applications which can be used by Assange’s legal team to delay or frustrate the extradition.  The points being made on the EAW regime by Assange and his team are not without merit, and it could be for the advantage of many other people that Assange and his lawyers are forcing the formidable and often illiberal EAWs to be subjected to anxious judicial scrutiny.  It should never be the case that EAWs should be issued lightly. 

Assange and his legal team - like any defendant and their lawyer - are fully entitled to use any available means so that his legal rights can be properly asserted. 

However,  one can also be critical of Assange's litigation strategy.  Assange may be well advised to return to Sweden to answer the serious allegations of rape and sexual assault, which otherwise would remain unanswered.   Rather than sinking his scarce resources in this peripheral litigation in London, it would seem far more sensible to devote energy and money to his substantive legal defence in Sweden.  For the allegations against Assange are objectively serious, and they do require a response.  The allegations really should be responded to sooner rather than later.  And it is sickening that many who should know better seek to deride or discredit the complaints and the complainants.  (On this, see the US blogger Kate Harding's 2010 post here.)

Given that Assange and his supporters contend that the allegations have no basis then a focus on the allegations themselves, and not on points about European Arrest Warrants, would seem to be the course for a wise man rather than a clever man.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.