By Sushila Rao
By a majority of 5 to 2, the justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court have votedto dismiss Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s appeal against extradition from the UK to Sweden, for questioning about allegations of sexual offenses. The Court held that the term “judicial authority”—which has warrant power under the European framework and under the UK’s 2003 Extradition Act—includes public prosecutors. Thus the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued for Mr. Assange by the Swedish Prosecution Authority in November 2010 is valid.
This might pave the way for Mr. Assange—an Australian citizen—to be eventually extradited to the USA, where he could face a range of charges against him over Wikileaks, including espionage and conspiracy. He has been linked to the case against US Army private Bradley Manning, who faces court martial over 22 alleged offenses, including “aiding the enemy” by leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.
Interestingly, in a rather unusual occurrence, Mr. Assange has been given 14 days to challenge a central point of the apex court ruling, relating to the correct interpretation of international treaties. Court watchers have observed that the Court appears prepared to consider whether arguments about the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties were sufficiently raised during the hearing.
Specifically, the controversy relates to Article 31.3 of the Vienna Convention, which states that treaties can be interpreted bearing in mind the “subsequent practice” of their application. Mr. Assange’s lawyers contend that several justices relied on this principle of subsequent practice in holding that a public prosecutor had become accepted across Europe as a judicial authority. ”Security concerns” meant that the judgment was not circulated beforehand, so Mr. Assange’s lawyers did not receive it in time to make representations at an earlier stage.