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.)

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.