U.K. Supreme Court to Rule on Assange Extradition Appeal

After months of anticipation, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will get a final ruling from a British court next Wednesday on his appeal of an extradition order to Sweden to face sex crimes allegations.

Assange, who has been under house arrest for a year and a half, asked the Supreme Court last February to overturn an order extraditing him to Sweden on grounds that the European arrest warrant issued against him was invalid because the Swedish prosecutor behind it was “working for the executive” and was therefore not a proper judicial authority, as the law requires.

Swedish authorities have maintained that the arrest warrant was proper and valid because in the early stages of an investigation when an arrest is first being sought, judicial authorities do not have to be independent or impartial.

Should the seven justices of the Supreme Court agree with Sweden and uphold the extradition ruling, Assange will have one last chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Assange lost his initial fight against extradition last year, but appealed it before a High Court. That court rejected his appeal last November.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal of that verdict earlier this year. The case is significant because it could throw into question other extradition cases in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe if the justices rule that the Swedish prosecutor was not a valid authority for requesting an arrest warrant.

Assange has not been charged with any crime in Sweden, and used that fact as his primary defense in his earlier appeal to the High Court.

The High Court rejected this argument, as well as the argument questioning the validity of the warrant, and ordered that Assange must be returned to Sweden.

Assange then sought permission from the High Court to appeal to the Supreme Court. In order to do so, his attorneys had to show the High Court that his case related to a matter of public importance that went beyond Assange. The High Court refrained from asserting that his case met this criteria, but nonetheless gave him permission to ask the Supreme Court directly to hear his appeal, though a High Court judge asserted that Assange’s chance of succeeding in the Supreme Court was “extraordinarily slim.”

Assange is being sought for questioning in Sweden on rape and coercion allegations stemming from sexual relations he had with two women in that country in August 2010. One woman has claimed that Assange pinned her down to have sex with her and intentionally tore a condom he wore. The second woman claims that he had sex with her while she was initially asleep, failing to wear a condom despite repeated requests for him to do so. Assange has disputed their claims.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the sex in both cases was consensual.

Photo: Julian Assange (center) speaks to the media, flanked by his lawyers Mark Stephens (left) and Jennifer Robinson after making an appearance at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in London, Jan. 11, 2011. Matt Dunham/AP