Assange can go to UK Supreme Court (again) to fend off US extradition bid

Top Brit judges may consider whether an American prison is just too much


Julian Assange has won a technical victory in his ongoing battle against extradition from the UK to the United States, buying him a few more months in the relative safety of Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh.

Today at London's High Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Burnett approved a question on a technical point of law, having refused Assange immediate permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court. The WikiLeaker's lawyers had asked for formal permission to pose this legal conundrum about Assange's likely treatment in US prisons to the Supreme Court:

In what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings?

The Lord Chief Justice, presiding, refused – saying Assange's lawyers would have to ask the Supreme Court directly within 14 days.

A densely procedural step that in practical terms, assuming Assange's team takes the question to the Supreme Court, will halt the extradition proceedings for a few months while the legal system comes to a decision, if it decides to consider the point of law.

In December Lord Burnett formally accepted previous US assurances that Assange would be treated humanely, rejecting his legal team's claims that incarcerating him in an American prison would breach Britain's human rights laws. Prisoners cannot be extradited from Britain to a country where their human rights would be breached.

Previously Westminster Magistrates' Court had ruled that Assange could not be extradited, on the sole ground that he was likely to kill himself if extradition did go ahead. This was overturned; when the UK Supreme Court decides whether or not to follow Assange, the case will go back to Home Secretary Priti Patel for her formal decision. After that it is more or less a given that Assange will appeal against that to the Court of Appeal.

Assange, 50, is wanted regarding criminal charges in America, including that he commissioned the hacking of US government servers by US army private Chelsea Manning after offering to crack passwords on caches of stolen data.

Documents revealed to the wider world by WikiLeaks included the infamous Collateral Murder video, showing American attack helicopter pilots gunning down a group of TV journalists in the mistaken belief they were terrorists carrying rocket launchers.

Anyone with a sense of deja vu over Assange going to the UK Supreme Court to contest an extradition case is right: ten years ago he did something very similar while trying to avoid being sent to Sweden, where he was wanted at the time on suspicion of sexual assault.

After losing his Supreme Court bid in 2012, he fled into the Ecuadorian embassy's broom cupboard in London, only to be turfed out in 2019 and promptly arrested. ®


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