WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's 13-month-long legal battle against extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault brought by two women entered its final phase on Wednesday as the Supreme Court took up for hearing his appeal against a High Court ruling that he can be extradited.
A seven-member bench agreed to hear the appeal on grounds that the case raised an issue of “great public importance”. The hearing will last two days but judges could take several weeks to give their verdict.
If Mr. Assange loses the appeal, he would have exhausted all his legal options in British courts though he could take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
A group of supporters greeted Mr. Assange and raised slogans demanding his freedom as he arrived at the Supreme Court.
Mr. Assange's team is arguing that the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European Arrest Warrant on the basis of which he was arrested in London in November 2010 did not have the judicial authority to do so under the provisions of the 2003 Extradition Act. His lawyer, Dinah Rose QC, said it was “a matter of fundamental legal principle” that the person issuing such a warrant was both independent and impartial.
“No one may be a judge in their own case,” she said pointing out that in this case the Swedish prosecutor was a party and the arrest warrant, therefore, had no legal validity.
“Since the Swedish prosecutor cannot fulfil those conditions, she is not a judicial authority and not capable of issuing a warrant for the purposes of the 2003 Act,” she argued.
Ms. Rose said Mr. Assange was prepared to answer questions from Swedish prosecutors through a video-link or phone. He could also be interviewed by Swedish investigators in person in Britain. There was no need for him to be extradited to Sweden.
“The EAW is a draconian instrument which affects individual liberty, freedom of movement and private life: it should only be resorted to if other, less invasive, measures for achieving the general interest have failed or are unavailable,” she said.
The WikiLeaks chief is accused of raping one woman and “sexually molesting and coercing” another in Stockholm in August 2010.
Mr. Assange, who is on bail under conditions that his supporters have likened to virtual house arrest, denies any wrongdoing and believes the case is politically motivated — linked to his website's exposure of American foreign policy excesses.
He fears that, if he is extradited, Swedish authorities might hand him over to Americans who have threatened to prosecute him for leaking classified and confidential documents.