Monday, 15 April 2019

Assange ~ Arrest and possible extradition to USA


Wikileaks was founded in 2006 by Mr Julian Assange (born 3 July 1971).  It is an international publishing organisation which came to prominence in 2010 when it published a series of "leaks" provided by Chelsea Manning.  The publications included the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010) and the Iraq war logs (October 2010). 

In November 2010, a Swedish prosecutor issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for Mr Assange alleging that he had committed sexual assaults and rape.  He denied the allegations, and said that they were just a pretext for him to be extradited from Sweden to the United States because of his role in publishing secret American documents.

Assange was arrested under the EAW and granted conditional bail.  He contested the EAW but the Supreme Court rejected his case - Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority [2012] UKSC 22].

On 19 June 2012, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and, on 16 August 2012, he was granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador.

Given that Assange did not attend court as required by his bail, a warrant was issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court for his arrest.

On 19 May 2017, Sweden rescinded the European Arrest Warrant but, at the time of writing, it remains possible under Swedish law for them to prefer a charge for the alleged rape.

Importantly, the arrest warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court for failing to surrender remained in force throughout the time Assange was at the embassy. 


He remained at the Embassy until 11 April 2019.  The Ecuador government - led by Lenin Moreno - withdrew its protection.  The Metropolitan Police were permitted to enter the embassy to execute the Magistrates' Court warrant.  Within hours, Assange was taken to court and convicted of failing to surrender to bail.

A police statement confirmed that Assange was further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities, at 10:53 hrs after his arrival at a central London police station. This is an extradition warrant under Section 73 of the Extradition Act.

A statement by the USA Department of Justice  indicates that the arrest was in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.  The statement also notes - "He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors."

Legal process:

Legal interest will now focus on (a) the sentencing of Assange for failure to surrender and (b) the extradition process to the USA.  It remains possible that Sweden will also seek to secure extradition for the alleged rape.

The Bail Act 1976 covers the offence of failure without reasonable excuse to surrender to custody (section 6) and also Liability to arrest for absconding or breaking conditions of bail (section 7).  Section 6 provides that where a magistrates’ court convicts a person of an offence it may commit the person to the Crown Court for sentencing.  Assange was committed for sentencing under this provision and, completely unsurprisingly, was not granted bail.  The Crown Court has power to sentence him for up to 12 months imprisonment for the section 6 offence.

The Home Office has issued a factsheet about the extradition process.  The key legislation relating to extradition to the USA is Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003 (Extradition to Category 2 countries).

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