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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.