The High Court has reversed a decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he is wanted for publishing classified documents.
Mr Assange, 50, is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeak’s publication of several hundred leaked documents relating to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
US authorities brought a High Court challenge against a January ruling by then-district judge Vanessa Baraister, who ruled that Mr Assange should not be sent to the US, in which she cited a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.
Stella Morris, Mr Assange’s finance, said his team will appeal the ruling
After a two-day hearing in October, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holroyde ruled in favour of the US on 10 December.
Responding to the High Court decision, Stella Moris, Mr Assange’s fiancee, said: “We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment.”
Ms Moris described the High Court’s ruling as “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
“How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible, to extradite Julian to the very country which plotted to kill him?” she said.
The US argued Mr Assange would not face strict measures
The senior judges found that Ms Baraister’s had based her decision on the risk of Mr Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.
Subscribe to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
However, the US authorities later gave assurances that he would not face those strictest measures either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.
Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.
“That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favour.”
Supporters of Julian Assange demonstrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London
James Lewis QC, representing the US, said the district judge based her decision on Mr Assange’s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventative measures”, which risked becoming a “trump card” for anyone who wanted to oppose their extradition regardless of any resources the other state might have.
Mr Lewis said that the four “binding” diplomatic assurances made were a “solemn matter” and “are not dished out like smarties”.
Lawyers acting for the US also argued Mr Assange’s health is well enough for extradition, with Mr Lewis telling the court his mental illness “does not even come close” to being severe enough to prevent being sent overseas.
Julian Assange’s partner has told supporters the family had received death threats and pleaded for their ‘nightmare’ to end.
Mr Assange’s lawyers oppose the High Court ruling
But lawyers representing Mr Assange had argued that the assurances over the WikiLeaks founder’s potential treatment were “meaningless” and “vague”.
Edward Fitzgerald QC said the judge had produced a “carefully considered and fully reasoned judgment”, adding it was “clear” she had “scrupulously applied the test for oppression in cases of mental disorder”.
Mr Fitzgerald later said that assurances not to impose SAMs on Mr Assange or hold him at the ADX Florence Supermax jail pre-trial or post-conviction do not remove the risk of “conditions of administrative isolation”.
Julian Assange: A timeline of Wikileaks founder’s case
The court also heard that Assange had faced a “menacing, threatening and frightening” situation while under surveillance when he lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Mr Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison since 2019 after he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions.
He had been living in the embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped