Assange 'set to reopen argument'

Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange look set to fight on to stop his extradition to Sweden where he faces sex crime allegations.

Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange look set to fight on to stop his extradition to Sweden where he faces sex crime allegations.

Today the Supreme Court decided by a 5-2 majority that extradition was lawful and could go ahead.

But Dinah Rose QC immediately told the country’s highest court that Assange was considering an application for his case to be reopened on the basis that there had been a flawed hearing.

Assange, 40, was given 14 days to consider today’s judgment before making a final decision on his next move.

The Swedish authorities want him to answer accusations of raping one woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture.

Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, says the sex was consensual and the allegations against him are politically motivated.

Today the majority of Supreme Court justices rejected Assange’s argument that the European arrest warrant (EAW) issued against him by Sweden was “invalid and unenforceable”.

Ms Rose contended that the Swedish public prosecutor who issued the EAW was not a “judicial authority”. Warrants could not be issued by prosecutors but only by a court, judge or magistrate.

After her argument was rejected, Ms Rose gave her warning that an application could now be made “to reopen the argument” before the justices.

Ms Rose said there was “concern” that the court majority had based their decision on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties she had had no opportunity to address.

Lord Phillips, court president, said the point of law which had to be considered had not been simple to resolve.

He gave Assange’s legal team 14 days to consider the court’s ruling before deciding whether to press for a further hearing.

The apparent refusal of Assange to accept today’s ruling as the last word is the latest stage in a marathon legal battle played out in the glare of worldwide publicity.

Last November, the High Court upheld a ruling by District Judge Howard Riddle - sitting at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court, south London, the previous February - that the Australian computer expert should be extradited to face investigation.

The High Court declared that it would not be unfair or unlawful to extradite Assange.

One of Assange’s legal team said he had not been in court – disappointing supporters who had massed to support him outside the Supreme Court building in Westminster – because he was stuck in traffic.

Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represents Assange, said after today’s hearing: “We are going to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider.”

She said the case had raised an important legal issue about the meaning of “judicial authority”.

She suggested that MPs had thought that a judicial authority meant a judge rather that a prosecutor when they adopted extradition rules.

Journalist John Pilger, who was at today’s hearing to support Assange, said lawyers might also launch a challenge in a European court.

“It’s not over,” he said. “It could come back here for a hearing. It could go to Europe – or both.”

After missing today’s formal hand-down of the judgment against him, Assange tweeted: “We got the news not hoped for”.

Differences between the French and English languages over what is meant by the words “judicial authority” played a crucial part in the ruling.

Announcing the court’s decision, Lord Phillips said: “The point of law is simple to state, but it has not been simple to resolve. Indeed we have only reached our decision by a 5-2 majority.”

The four other justices who dismissed Assange’s legal challenge were Lord Walker, Lord Brown, Lord Kerr and Lord Dyson. Dissenting decisions were given by Lady Hale and Lord Mance.

Lord Phillips said the meaning of the words “judicial authority” was debated when Parliament considered the Bill which became the 2003 Extradition Act.

The phrase had earlier been used in the EU Framework Decision that put EAWs in place.

Lord Phillips said it was clear some believed the words meant only a court or a judge.

“Indeed one minister specifically stated to a parliamentary committee that this was the case. But he was mistaken,” said Lord Phillips

“Judicial authority” was the English translation of the French words “autorite judiciare”.

The Framework Decision was in both English and French, so it was necessary to have regard to what the French phrase meant.

Lord Phillips said: “The French phrase has a wider meaning than the English phrase.

“In French the words judicial authority can be used of a public prosecutor.”

When EU member states implemented the Framework Decision many of them appointed public prosecutors to perform the role of the judicial authority, and there was no suggestion that this was contrary to the Framework Decision.

Lord Phillips said: “Having particular regard to this fact, the majority of the court are agreed that, in the Framework Decision the words ’judicial authority’ or ’autorite judiciare’ bears a meaning that includes a public prosecutor.

“Two members of the Court, Lady Hale and Lord Mance, consider that this does not determine the meaning of judicial authority in the Extradition Act.”

Their dissenting view was that the words should mean a court or judge when the Act was applied.

Lord Phillips said: “The other members of the court do not agree. Parliament’s intention in passing the Extradition Act was to give effect to the Framework Decision.

“This was necessary in order to produce a uniform and coherent system of extradition in Europe. It was also necessary in order to comply with the duty of the United Kingdom under international law.

“So there is a presumption that the words ’judicial authority’ should have the same meaning in the Extradition Act that they have in the Framework Decision.

“The understanding of some MPs, or the statement of the minister as to the meaning of the Framework Decision, does not displace this presumption.”

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