02 February 2012 | 06:27:04 PM | Source: AAP
Julian Assange’s final appeal against a Swedish extradition attempt will have widespread ramifications for human rights, a legal expert says.
Australian Lawyers Alliance president Greg Barnes is one of many legal experts closely watching the 40-year-old Australian’s appeal against extradition for alleged sex crimes in the UK’s highest court, the Supreme Court in London.
The two-day trial, scheduled to end on Thursday, is focusing on whether a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), issued against Assange by a Swedish public prosecutor, is valid under provisions of the 2003 Extradition Act.
Assange’s lawyers have argued the arrest warrant breaches “a matter of fundamental legal principle” because the prosecutor issuing the warrant should be impartial and independent of the parties in the case.
Mr Barnes, who is also a barrister, told AAP the argument Assange’s lawyers have put forward is important.
“It’s one thing for a court to issue an arrest warrant for extradition but it’s quite another for a prosecutor to do the same,” Mr Barnes said.
“Because a prosecutor, as Assange’s lawyers have said, is not impartial or truly independent.
“A ruling on this will be extremely significant for anyone facing extradition (in the future) and will have widespread ramifications.”
He said he was surprised Assange lost his appeal in the High Court in England before progressing to the Supreme Court, which ruled a prosecutor was in fact a judicial authority.
“It does set a dangerous precedent,” Mr Barnes said.
“You may have a case where a country is not a democracy and prosecutors are inherently politically motivated and seek to extradite someone for political reasons.”
The Swedish authorities want Assange to answer accusations of raping one woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture.
The founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks remains on conditional bail in the UK and has been detained for more than a year without charge.
His mother Christine Assange, who lives in Queensland, told AAP it was an uncertain and anxious time for the family but she was hopeful.
“He has won the last two appeals so that’s looking hopeful, but given how much the US wants to silence the disclosures from WikiLeaks I don’t know how high that level of pressure goes,” Ms Assange said.
“I’m in fighting mode and want to get the facts out because I feel if the public knew the facts of the case they would be up in arms over the terrible injustice that is happening.”
Ms Assange said the sexual allegations were political and had mostly to do with silencing the WikiLeaks website which had published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables.
If her son’s final appeal in Britain failed, his next step would be to appeal to the European courts of human rights.
A written verdict is expected to be handed down several weeks after the hearing.