On Friday, December 10th at 10:15am London time / 11:15am Berlin time, U.K. High Court judges Lord Ian Burnett of Maldon and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde announced that they had accepted the appeal of the U.S. government in the extradition trial for WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.
Neither Mr. Assange, nor any representatives from either side, appeared in court today. Holroyde read the judgment within fifteen minutes and did not respond to questions from the press.
On January 4th, district judge Vanessa Baraitser had ruled against the United States on the narrow basis that there was “a real risk that he will be kept in the near isolated conditions imposed by the harshest SAMs regime, both pre-trial and post-trial,” and had made the assessment that “Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial… such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.” Based on submissions and arguments from a preliminary hearing in August and a two-day appeals trial in October, that decision has just been overturned, in favour of the U.S.; the court has rejected grounds 1, 3, and 4, but accepted grounds 2 and 5:
“Grounds 2 and 5 involve consideration of whether the judge should have given the USA an opportunity to consider offering assurances before she made her decision to discharge Mr Assange, whether this court can and should receive the assurances offered subsequent to the judge’s decision and whether those assurances effectively answer all the points which led the judge to decide that extradition would be oppressive.”
Regarding whether he will be subjected to Special Administrative Measures (“SAMs”): “It is difficult to see why extradition should be refused on the basis that Mr Assange might in future act in a way which exposes him to conditions he is anxious to avoid.”
Regarding whether the assurances made by the U.S. government are reliable or in good faith: “The reality is that this court is being invited to reject the USA’s assurances either on the basis that they are not offered in good faith or that they are for some other reason not capable of being accepted at face value. That is a serious allegation, particularly bearing in mind that (as Diplomatic Note no. 169 says) the United Kingdom and the USA have a long history of cooperation in extradition matters, and the USA has in the past frequently provided, and invariably fulfilled, assurances… There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Stella Moris, the fiancée of Assange, said that today’s decision is “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.” Last week, it was reported that Burnett “is a close personal friend of Sir Alan Duncan, who as foreign minister arranged Assange’s eviction from the Ecuadorian embassy” in April 2019. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has issued the following statement:
“This ruling marks a bleak moment for journalists and journalism around the world, on the very day when we should be celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists and urging states to uphold the commitments to media freedom they have just reaffirmed at the US-led Summit for Democracy.”
The case will now be remitted back to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court and then sent to the Secretary of State, currently Priti Patel. At the moment, Patel and her Home Office are trying to reform the U.K.’s Human Rights Act to “make it more difficult for people to claim that they would face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment if they were deported to their home countries,” as well as the Official Secrets Act to remove “the existing distinction between spying and leaking, and between leakers, whistleblowers and journalists.” Both issues are relevant to the Assange case, and give strong indications of which way Patel will lean once the matter is on her desk.
The defence team has stated that “on behalf of Mr Assange,” who will remain in custody, “his lawyers will be seeking permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court; the application to do so has to be made in writing within 14 days.”