WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won the latest round in his legal battle against being extradited to the US, as High Court judges in London granted the Australian national permission to take his extradition appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court.
The 50-year-old is wanted in America over the leak of thousands of classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His lawyers argued that he should not be taken to the US because of a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.
Last month, the US authorities won an appeal against a previous court ruling that he could not be extradited due to concerns over his mental health.
US authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder would not face the severely restrictive conditions that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.
The High Court overturned the lower court’s decision in December, noting American solemn undertakings were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely.
Now, Assange has secured the right from the High Court to seek an appeal against that ruling in the Supreme Court based on a point of law that is of “general public importance”, which could potentially have a far-reaching impact of setting fresh precedent in extradition cases.
If he had failed to meet the extremely high bar to be allowed the appeal, Assange’s case would have gone directly to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for a final decision on extradition.
Speaking after the court decision outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Assange’s fiancee Stella Morris said the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal.
“Julian continues to suffer for almost three years, he’s been in Belmarsh prison, and he is suffering profoundly day after day, week after week, year after year,” said Morris.
“Julian has to be freed and we hope that this will soon end…Our fight goes on. We will fight this until Julian is free,” she said.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde, said Assange could go to the Supreme Court and ask to bring the appeal.
Lord Burnett said the point of law on which permission was granted was about the circumstances in which an appeal court can be given assurances by a country that were not given at the original extradition.
He added that “although the law in this jurisdiction has long been settled, it does not appear that the Supreme Court has considered the question.
“Assurances are at the heart of many extradition proceedings,” he noted.
Assange’s lawyers now have 14 days to make the application to the Supreme Court.
Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison in south-east London 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.
The US indictment against him claims Assange conspired to crack a scrambled password, known as “hash”, to a classified US defence department computer. Assange denies the charge and maintains there is no evidence anyone’s safety was put at risk.