On 14 March, Julian Assange’s defence lawyers issued a statement reporting that the Supreme Court had refused Assange permission to appeal on the basis that, “the application does not raise an arguable point of law”. The case will now go back down to District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, the original judge who assessed the US’s extradition request.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is then expected to make a final decision. If she approves the extradition, Assange’s lawyers could make a fresh legal challenge. In June 2019, her predecessor Sajid Javid agreed a request by the United States to extradite the Wikileaks founder. Meanwhile his lawyers, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, said they will make submissions to the home secretary within the next four weeks, ahead of her making any decision.
The announcement by the Supreme Court followed the 24 January 2022 decision by the High Court allowing Assange to file an appeal with them, requesting review of a narrow point about the lateness in the US government’s provision of diplomatic assurances regarding Assange’s treatment if extradited.
The international media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed deep disappointment at the decision and urged the Home Office to act in the interest of journalism and press freedom by refusing extradition and immediately releasing Assange from prison.
What next for Assange?
The Supreme Court’s decision means Assange is closer than ever to extradition to the US, where he could face a lifetime in prison. However, the matter is not over yet. His lawyers can still try to open up the parts of the case he lost in January 2021 when a court ruled that the US had a case to prosecute Assange for alleged offences, but that his safety was not guaranteed by the US authorities. They include potentially important questions about whether his actions as Wikileaks chief were protected by human rights’ safeguards concerning freedom of speech.
Meanwhile it was announced that Assange is to marry his fiancéeStella Moris on 23 March in London’s Belmarsh prison. They met when he was living in the Ecuador embassy. The couple have two children.
The journalist faces an 18-count indictment from the US government, accusing him of conspiring to hack into US military databases to acquire sensitive secret information about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which was then published on the Wikileaks website. The information revealed how the US military had killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan, while leaked Iraq war files showed 66,000 civilians had been killed, and prisoners tortured, by Iraqi forces.