Significant advance in WikiLeaks' founder battle
Britain's Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden saying the case raised an issue of “great public importance''.
The decision was seen as a significant advance in Mr. Assange's year-long legal battle sparked by allegations of sexual assault brought by two Swedish women he met in Stockholm in the summer of 2010.
A seven-member bench of the Supreme Court will hold a two-day hearing starting February 1, 2012 in what will be Mr. Assange's last chance to persuade British judges that he has no case to answer.
“The court has decided that seven justices will hear the appeal given the great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority,” said the court in a statement referring to Mr. Assange's plea that the Swedish warrant seeking his extradition was not issued by a proper judicial authority and was, therefore, not legally valid.
Earlier, a court spokesman said the decision to allow the appeal was taken by a panel of three Supreme Court Justices — Lord Hope, Lord Mance and Lord Dyson — after considering 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.”
The Crown Prosecution Service said that if, after hearing the appeal, the Supreme Court dismissed it, “then his [Mr. Assange's] only further remedy is to apply immediately to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which will respond within 14 days''.
Mr. Assange is appealing against a ruling of the High Court in November that he can be extradited. Earlier this month, judges gave him permission to take his case to the Supreme Court. Mr. Assange denies any wrongdoing and says the case is politically motivated. 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.
“I have not been charged with any crime in any country. Despite this, the European arrest warrant is so restrictive that it prevents UK courts from considering the facts for a case,'' he has said.
Mr. Assange, who was arrested in November last year, is on bail under conditions that have been likened to house arrest.