Assange extradition case goes to UK Home Secretary as High Court rules he can be sent to US for trial

Brace yourself, now come years of appeals


Julian Assange will be sent stateside for trial on criminal charges after the US government won an appeal against an earlier court order that released him from the threat of extradition.

The former WikiLeaks editor-in-chief lost the latest stage of his attempt to avoid being sent to the US after the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Holroyde accepted US assurances that he would be treated humanely in their prisons.

The High Court has quashed a previous court order "freeing" Assange*, meaning the case will now join the growing pile on Home Secretary Priti Patel's desk awaiting her decision on whether to extradite.

After Judge Baraitser formally discharged Assange in January, the US filed an immediate appeal. Baraitser had thrown out all of Assange's arguments except one: that he would kill himself if sent abroad to stand trial.

Today judges accepted US assurances of humane treatment in full, saying that had those assurances been made at an earlier stage, Judge Baraitser "would have answered the relevant question differently." The UK, ruled the court, has never formally complained that American law enforcement workers breached their government's diplomatic promises about treatment of prisoners, ruling:

The reality is that this court is being invited to reject the USA's assurances either on the basis that they are not offered in good faith or that they are for some other reason not capable of being accepted at face value. That is a serious allegation, particularly bearing in mind that (as Diplomatic Note no. 169 says) the United Kingdom and the USA have a long history of cooperation in extradition matters, and the USA has in the past frequently provided, and invariably fulfilled, assurances.

Assange's legal team failed to argue that the US made assurances it couldn't keep in the case of Haroon Aswat, a terrorism suspect whose extradition was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights. Had the High Court ruled that the US lied or misled British judges in the Aswat case, Assange's team could have challenged their man's extradition on the grounds that US prosecutors were telling similar lies again.

Among a smorgasbord of US criminal charges described by his supporters as an attack on journalism, Assange is accused of commissioning the cracking of a password protecting US Department of Defence files.

The US also gave a "binding" assurance that Assange wouldn't be dumped in solitary confinement on arrival – and would be transferred to Australia to serve his sentence without the US objecting.

The High Court also ruled that Professor Michael Kopelman, Assange's expert psychiatry witness, made "misleading" statements about the Australian and his new wife Stella Moris – but refused US pleas to ignore his testimony completely. Kopelman, as previously reported, failed to tell Judge Baraitser in earlier hearings that Assange had fathered two children with Moris, merely saying that the WikiLeaker was in a relationship with a mother of two. Assange's lawyers later tried explaining this by saying Kopelman (and the rest of Assange's camp) were worried the CIA was going to murder, kidnap or attack Moris and the children as revenge for being unable to get at Assange himself. The court previously heard that CIA informants stole a dirty nappy from the Ecuadorian embassy's bins to confirm the parentage of the children via DNA testing.

Lords Burnett (the Lord Chief Justice) and Holroyde sniffed:

Many people mislead courts for reasons which might be understandable but that does not excuse the behaviour and it is incompatible with the obligations of an expert witness to do so.

Stella Moris described today's ruling against her husband as a "grave miscarriage of justice" in a public statement outside court. Filmmaker John Pilger said: "Mark this day as fascism casts off its disguises".

The Register is sure that the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, known by his fellow judges as "Ian from Essex", is not a fascist.

Less hyperbolically, Christophe Deloire, chief of French press freedom organisation Reporters Sans Frontières, said: "We condemn today's UK High Court decision to allow the extradition of Julian Assange to the US, which will prove historic for all the wrong reasons."

The US has yet to make a public statement but it's safe to assume they're happy with today's ruling.

The next step in the case is for the Home Office to decide whether or not to extradite Assange to the US. After that he can appeal to the High Court against the Home Sec's decision. If he doesn't like the High Court's ruling, Assange can go to the Court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court, so there's lots of mileage left in the British legal proceedings yet.

Today's ruling puts Assange's case at the same stage as that of Autonomy founder Mike Lynch, accused of committing fraud after selling Autonomy to Hewlett Packard for $11bn in 2011. ®

Bootnote

*Assange was remanded in custody before and during the extradition proceedings. Having proved he is a flight risk after fleeing previously granted bail straight into the broom cupboard of Ecuador's London embassy, the British judicial system wasn't going to let him out of its clutches again.


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