Julian Assange must face rape charges in Sweden, rules court
24 February 2011
The judicial authority in Sweden -v- Julian Paul Assange – Read judgment
Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, must face charges of sexual assault and rape in Sweden, the chief magistrate Howard Riddle has ruled.
The case will almost certainly be appealed, so in reality there may not be a final decision for many months. Assange has a right of appeal on law or fact to the High Court under section 26 of the Extradition Act 2003. Assange has 7 days to appeal, but otherwise the extradition would usually take 10 days to execute.
Assange’s skeleton argument, that is a summary of his legal arguments during the hearing, can be found here. You can find my previous post on the subject here, including an explanation of the law surrounding his potential extradition. Carl Gardner, of the Head of Legal blog, also provides an excellent post here.
Assange argued that the warrant was not validly issued, and that he would not face a fair trial in Sweden as the hearing would be held in secret. Such arguments are regularly deployed in relation to extraditions to countries such as Russia. A UK court must refuse an extradition request if its effect would be to expose a person to a flagrant denial of justice or human rights. But this always going to be much harder to prove in relation to Sweden, which has a well-developed legal system.
As reported by tweeters in the court, the judge ruled that the warrant was validly executed and that the Swedish prosecutor had the power to issue it. He was also unconvinced by Assange’s claim that he had made himself available for interviews in Sweden.
The judge accepted that the three offences Assange is accused of amounted to rape, and was unconvinced that Assange’s trial in Sweden would be prejudiced by the massive publicity surrounding the case. He did, however, advise that politicians and lawyers involved with the case should not comment on an ongoing trial. The abuse of process and human rights arguments were also dismissed. The full decision can be found here.
The case has been interesting on a number of levels. First, the controversial European Arrest Warrant which has been used by Sweden to force his extradition. And, second, the use of Twitter by journalists in Assange’s bail hearings has prompted a flurry of new court guidance on tweeting in court, culminating last week with the Supreme Court.
Both of these issues were discussed on the most recent BBC Law in Action, which can be found on iPlayer (UK only). Reaction to the ruling will be added to tonight’s repeat program at 8pm on BBC Radio 4.
So, part one of this saga is over. The next stage will be the High Court. But given that European Arrest Warrants were created to ensure easy extradition between European states, and the comments of the judge today, it looks like it will be difficult for Assange to convince the appeal court that he should remain in the UK.
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