Court approves Julian Assange appeal bid

 

The highest court in the land today granted permission for Julian Assange to appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he faces sex crime allegations.

The Supreme Court said it would hear the appeal after the Wikileaks founder raised a question on extradition law "of general public importance".

The two-day hearing will begin on February 1, the court said.

The appeal will be heard by a panel of seven of the 12 Supreme Court justices "given the great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority", a Supreme Court spokesman said.

He went on: "The Supreme Court has today considered an application by Julian Assange for permission to appeal to the Court, following the Divisional Court's certification of a point of law of general public importance.

"A panel of three Supreme Court Justices - Lord Hope, Lord Mance and Lord Dyson - has considered the written submissions of the parties; this is the court's usual practice for considering applications for permission to appeal.

"The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal and a hearing has been scheduled for two days, beginning on 1 February 2012."

Earlier this month, two High Court judges certified that Assange had raised a question on extradition law "of general public importance", paving the way for the appeal.

Sir John Thomas, sitting in London with Mr Justice Ouseley, refused the 40-year-old Australian direct permission to appeal after Sir John described Assange's chances of winning as "extraordinarily slim".

But the judges gave him 14 days to ask the Supreme Court justices themselves to give a final UK ruling.

If he loses a full appeal, his remaining option will be to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Assange has fought a series of legal battles, arguing that it would be "unfair and unlawful" to order his extradition.

The Swedish authorities want him to answer accusations of raping one woman and "sexually molesting and coercing" another in Stockholm in August last year.

He denies the allegations and says they are politically motivated.

His WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables and other documents, embarrassing several governments and international businesses.

Recently, the High Court upheld a ruling by District Judge Howard Riddle at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south east London that the computer expert should be extradited to face investigation.

Mark Summers, appearing for Assange, said his client was detained under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by a Swedish public prosecutor.

Seeking permission to appeal against the High Court decision, Mr Summers said he wanted to ask the Supreme Court to rule that public prosecutors were not "judicial authorities" entitled to issue warrants under extradition law, and therefore the Assange warrant was invalid.

He told the judges a "disproportionately high" number of EAWs found to have been unjust or oppressive emanated from public prosecutors who "should not, in any circumstances, be permitted to issue EAWs".

During the hearing, Sir John told Mr Summers the court's view was that it had "very little doubt that, as a matter of law, the prosecutor was within the scheme" for issuing warrants, and Assange's chances of success in the Supreme Court were "extraordinarily slim".

But at the end of the hearing the judge announced the court felt "constrained" to certify that the case raised at least one question of general public importance.

Assange, who continues to be free on bail, is living in a country house in Norfolk belonging to a friend.

He has said the issue of extradition safeguards concerned many people in the UK, Europe and other countries who were "struggling for justice".

PA

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