WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange won a small battle against the push to extradite him to Sweden, with the High Court allowing him the opportunity to petition the Supreme Court to hear his appeal. Assange’s legal team has 14 days to make the request, and there is no guarantee it will be granted. If the Supreme Court refuses to take the case, the extradition process will resume, and Assange will be removed to Sweden, most likely some time in January. Should they take the appeal, the process will stretch over several months, well into next year.
Technically, the court rejected Assange’s appeal, saying that the court itself would not refer the matter to the Supreme Court — but also certified one of the two grounds, on which his appeal was based, the argument as to whether a prosecutor (who issued the warrant that sparked the extradition process) was an independent judicial authority, as required by the European Arrest Warrant system. The “certification” of that point acknowledges that it is a matter of “general public importance” on a point of law.
The challenge goes to the heart of an unresolved issue around the European Arrest Warrant — that it covers systems with both independent judiciaries (chiefly the UK, and those where the judiciary and the executive are more closely involved). It is far from the only problem with the European Arrest Warrant, and as one of the High Court judges remarked, Assange’s chances of winning his appeal are “slim” — but if it were to succeed, it would throw the whole European Arrest Warrant system (especially as that applies to the UK) into deep trouble, since European prosecutors routinely have a judicial role.
The case has come at a time when disquiet about the European Arrest Warrant has been growing in Britain — indeed it coincided with a debate in the Commons over a motion brought by Tory backbencher Dominic Raab, over the European Arrest Warrant and the US/UK fast-track extradition treaty. That debate ended with a bill being voted up, demanding “urgent reform” to the US-UK treaty and the European Arrest Warrant , with support from within all parties.
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