The High Court ruled on Monday 24 January that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has the right to ask the Supreme Court to block his extradition to the US, ruling that he had an arguable point of law.
Assange wins right to seek appeal on his extradition
The ruling means Assange can petition the UK’s highest court for a hearing, stalling any extradition from the UK for now. However, this is the first stage in the process and he has no guarantee of a hearing. Despite being able to petition the Supreme Court, it is up to the court to decide whether to hear the appeal. This is common practice, as it allows the Supreme Court to choose which cases it will hear itself
If he had not won the right to seek an appeal, Assange’s case would have gone directly to the home secretary Priti Patel for a final decision on whether he should be sent to the US. But his legal team has secured the right to seek appeal at the Supreme Court based on a point of law that is of “general public importance”.
Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, for Assange, previously said the case raised “serious and important” legal issues, including over a “reliance” on assurances given by the US about the prison conditions he would face if extradited.
The decision came just weeks after the US authorities won their High Court challenge to overturn an earlier ruling that Assange should not be extradited due to a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.
Continuing uncertainty over Assange’s safety
Giving his ruling, Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde said Assange’s case had raised a legal question over the circumstances in which judges received and considered assurances from the US about how he would be treated in prison.
Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancée and mother of his two young sons, claimed the High Court ruling as a victory but said “we are far from achieving justice in this case”. Speaking outside the court, she said:
“Let’s not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn’t dropped, as long as Julian isn’t freed, Julian continues to suffer.
“What happened in court today is precisely what we wanted to happen… the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal.
“For almost three years he has been in Belmarsh prison and he is suffering profoundly.”
She added: “Our fight goes on and we will fight this until Julian is free.”
Assange’s lawyers have 14 days to make the application to the Supreme Court from the date of the High Court ruling.
Concerns over press freedom as well as torture and ill-treatment
Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s deputy research director for Europe, said:
“While we welcome the High Court’s decision to certify one narrow issue related to the US’s assurances as being of ‘general public importance’, and so to allow the Supreme Court to consider granting an appeal on this issue, we are concerned the High Court has dodged its responsibility to ensure that matters of public importance are fully examined by the judiciary. The courts must ensure that people are not at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. This was at the heart of the two other issues the High Court has now effectively vetoed…
“We now hope that the Supreme Court will grant leave to appeal on the certified issue concerning at what stage in extradition proceedings should such assurances be submitted and considered.”
In response to the court’s decision, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said:
“Welcome as this decision is, this case is damaging media freedom every day that it drags on. The US is seeking Assange on charges that relate to the very business of gathering and processing news. For so long as this is treated as a potentially indictable offence, reporters doing important work will be looking over their shoulders.”
The Wikileaks founder is wanted in the US over the leak of thousands of top-secret documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.