WikiLeaks' Assange can appeal extradition

Britain's Supreme Court has agreed to hear WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questions over allegations of sexual assault and molestation.
The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, center, has been granted leave by Britain's Supreme Court to appeal his extradition to Sweden to answer sex crime allegations. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

Britain's Supreme Court said Friday it had agreed to hear WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden over sex crimes allegations.

The court said a panel of three judges had considered a written submission and granted a two-day appeal beginning Feb. 1, meaning there is no prospect of Assange being sent to Stockholm until at least next year.

In a statement, the court said it had "decided that seven justices will hear the appeal given the great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority."

Assange's legal team argue that police and prosecutors — like the Swedish prosecutor seeking to bring Assange back to the country for questioning — are not a proper judicial authority, and shouldn't have the right to order extraditions.

Earlier this month, High Court judges John Thomas and Duncan Ouseley said Assange could apply to the Supreme Court to argue that point and seek to prove that Europe's process of carrying out extradition was flawed.

However, Thomas warned Assange that his chance of success "may be extraordinarily slim."

Accused last year

Assange — who leads the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy Web site — was accused of rape, coercion and molestation following encounters with two Swedish women in August 2010. Swedish authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant on rape and molestation accusations, and Assange was arrested in London in December 2010.

The 40-year-old denies wrongdoing and is currently held on bail on the condition that he lives under curfew at a supporter's country estate in eastern England and wears an electronic tag.

In an original hearing in February, Judge Howard Riddle had ruled that Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face questions about the allegations, rejecting his claims that he would not receive a fair trial there.

Assange appealed to the High Court, and will now take his legal battle to the country's highest legal authority, the Supreme Court. The hearing will be his last avenue in Britain to avoid extradition, though lawyers have said they could consider a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.