Julian Assange wins right to appeal against extradition to US

WikiLeaks founder can make final appeal to the UK's highest court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal to the UK’s highest court in a final attempt to avoid extradition to the US over the publication of thousands of documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

US authorities in December won their High Court challenge to overturn a ruling that Mr Assange, 50, should not be extradited due to a real and oppressive risk of suicide.

The US has sought his extradition claiming that the leaks broke the law and endangered lives, while Mr Assange and his supporters have long contended that the case was politically motivated.

The published documents revealed the deaths of hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan. Leaked Iraq files showed that 66,000 civilians were killed and prisoners tortured by Iraqi forces.

Mr Assange was told on Monday that he would be allowed to apply to the Supreme Court over a point of law. For a proposed appeal to be considered by the UK's highest court, a case has to raise a point of law of "general public importance".

Two senior judges on Monday ruled that there was such a point of law but denied him permission for the appeal. The judges said that Mr Assange could go to the Supreme Court himself and ask to bring the appeal, however, drawing out the protracted legal saga of the Australian campaigner through the British courts.

"Whether or not the issue needs ventilation in that court is a matter appropriately for its decision," said Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett.

Solicitors for Mr Assange have previously claimed that his case raises serious and important legal issues, including a reliance on assurances given by the US about the prison conditions he would face if extradited.

Stella Morris, partner of Julian Assange, speaks outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Reuters

Mr Assange's fiancee Stella Moris said the decision was what they wanted.

"But let's not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn't dropped, as long as Julian isn't freed, Julian continues to suffer," she said.

"We are far from achieving justice in this case because Julian has been incarcerated for so long and he should not have spent a single day in prison."

She added: "Our fight goes on and we will fight this until Julian is free."

The decision on Monday avoids the potential of a swift extradition to the US for Mr Assange, with authorities seeking the approval of Home Secretary Priti Patel only if the hearing went against him.

Thomas Garner, an extradition expert at London law firm Fladgate said the decision "keeps his hopes of challenging his removal to the USA alive.”

Mr Assange, who was previously wanted by Swedish police for questioning over four alleged sexual offences, had holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London for seven years from June 2012 in an attempt to claim diplomatic asylum. The allegations were later dropped.

He has been held in Belmarsh Prison in south-east London since 2019 after being carried out of the embassy by police and arrested for breaching his bail conditions.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 3:10 PM