Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Assange Appeals 'Invalid' Warrant at Supreme Court

Assange appeals 'invalid' warrant at Supreme Court

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is appealing his extradition to Sweden at the Supreme Court, arguing the arrest warrant is "invalid and unenforceable".

His lawyers say the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European Arrest Warrant against him did not have the authority to do so as she was not impartial.

Mr Assange is wanted by the Swedish authorities for questioning over alleged sex offences, which he denies.

Judgement is expected to be reserved to a later date.

The 40-year-old Australian, who remains on conditional bail in the UK, claims the allegations against him are politically motivated.

He is accused of raping one woman and "sexually molesting and coercing" another in Stockholm in August 2010.

Mr Assange's Wikileaks website published a mass of material from leaked diplomatic cables embarrassing several governments.

The key legal question for the seven judges is whether the prosecutor who issued the arrest warrant had the judicial authority to do so under provisions of the 2003 Extradition Act.

Mr Assange's lawyer, Dinah Rose QC, said it was "a matter of fundamental legal principle" that the person issuing such a warrant was both independent and impartial.

But she said the Swedish prosecutor was a party in the Assange case and therefore was not either of these things.

Ms Rose submitted: "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 he 2003 Act."

The arrest warrant itself was therefore invalid, she said.

In the UK, judges can issue arrest warrants, and courts honour warrants issued by "judicial authorities".

Lawyers for Sweden argue that in Sweden, prosecutors play a judicial or semi-judicial role.

But Ms Rose said a prosecutor "does not, and indeed cannot as a matter of principle, exercise judicial authority.''

The High Court, which previously approved his extradition, had recognised that the status of the public prosecutor was debatable.

But Ms Rose said it had "nonetheless concluded that the Swedish prosecutor was a 'judicial' authority within the meaning of Part 1 of the 2003 Act" and was "wrong to reach that conclusion".

Draconian instrument

Ms Rose said Swedish prosecutors could investigate without Mr Assange being extradited using telephone, by video-link or in person at an embassy.

She said: "The EAW is a draconian instrument which affects individual liberty, freedom of movement and private life: it should only be resorted to if other, less invasive, measures for achieving the general interest have failed or are unavailable."

Supporters gathered outside the Supreme Court to greet Mr Assange as he arrived for the hearing.

In December, two High Court judges, Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Ouseley, decided that Mr Assange had raised a question on extradition law "of general public importance" and allowed him to ask the Supreme Court for a final UK ruling.

Later that month, a Supreme Court spokesman said its justices had agreed to hear the case "given the great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority". BBC

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