Dense legal arguments over the validity of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) marked the second and final day of the hearing in the Supreme Court here of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual misconduct brought by two women.
A verdict is not expected for several weeks.
Seven judges are hearing the appeal on grounds that the case raises an issue of “great public importance”. It is Mr. Assange's last chance to persuade British courts to stop his extradition. If he loses, he will have the option to move the European Court of Human Rights but only after he is handed over to Swedish authorities.
Mr. Assange sat through the proceedings looking unruffled and frequently took notes as lawyers for Swedish authorities insisted that the warrant under which his extradition was being sought was valid. They challenged Mr. Assange's claim that the warrant had no legal validity as it was issued by the Swedish prosecutor who was a party to the case rather than an independent and impartial judge.
On Wednesday, his lawyer Dinah Rose QC had questioned the warrant's validity arguing that the Swedish prosecutor who issued the warrant did not have the judicial authority to do so under the provisions of the 2003 Extradition Act.
Pointing out that it was “a matter of fundamental legal principle” that the person issuing such a warrant was both independent and impartial, she said: “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.”
However, Clare Montgomery, QC for Sweden, argued that in the 1957 European convention on extradition, public prosecutors were explicitly made part of the “judicial authorities” who could seek extradition. The phrase “judicial authorities” in the EAW framework agreement to which Britain was a signatory was always meant to include prosecutors as well as judges in some countries, she said.
Ms. Montgomery described as “just wrong” Ms. Rose's argument that the person issuing an extradition warrant had to be impartial. She questioned what she termed “all this rhetoric” from Mr. Assange's legal team “that suggests our construction makes the issuing of an arrest warrant a judge-free zone because in each case there will be an underlying court decision”.
The proceedings were marked by frequent interventions by judges who sought clarifications from Ms. Montgomery as she went into details of the European extradition law.
Earlier, as Mr. Assange arrived at the court he was greeted by a group of supporters carrying banners that said “Free Assange” and “No extradition”.
Mr Assange, who is accused of raping one woman and “sexually molesting and coercing” another in Stockholm in August 2010, denies any wrongdoing. He fears that if extradited Swedish authorities might hand him over to Americans who have threatened to prosecute him for leaking classified and confidential documents
He is currently on bail under conditions that his supporters have likened to virtual house arrest.