US government wins High Court case to overturn WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s expulsion

The US Government has won its High Court bid to overturn a judge’s decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 

Assange, 50, is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

US authorities brought a High Court challenge against a January ruling by then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser that Assange should not be sent to the US, in which she cited a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.

The US were ruled in favor by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Burnett. This was after a two day hearing that took place in October.

The top judges concluded that Assange had been convicted on grounds of Assange’s potential imprisonment in extremely restrictive conditions, if she was extradited.

The US authorities gave Assange assurances later that he would not be subject to the strictest of penalties, either post-trial nor pre-trial.

Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”

He added: “That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favour.”

Assange may attempt to appeal the latest decision.

The High Court was previously told that blocking Assange’s removal due to his mental health risks “rewarding fugitives for their flight”.

James Lewis QC, for the US, said the district judge based her decision on Assange’s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventative measures”, which risked becoming a “trump card” for anyone who wanted to oppose their extradition regardless of any resources the other state might have.

Mr Lewis said that the four “binding” diplomatic assurances made were a “solemn matter” and “are not dished out like smarties”.

They also stated that Assange wouldn’t be subject to any special administrative measures (SAMs), and would be detained at ADX Florence Supermax prison if extradited. The US would agree to Assange being sent to Australia for any possible sentence.

The US authorities also argued Assange is well enough to be extradited, with Mr Lewis telling the court his mental illness “does not even come close” to being severe enough to prevent being sent overseas.

But lawyers representing Assange, who opposed the US’s bid to overturn the extradition block, had argued that the assurances over the WikiLeaks founder’s potential treatment were “meaningless” and “vague”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC said the judge had produced a “carefully considered and fully reasoned judgment”, adding it was “clear” she had “scrupulously applied the test for oppression in cases of mental disorder”.

Mr Fitzgerald later said that assurances not to impose SAMs on Assange or hold him at the ADX Florence Supermax jail pre-trial or post-conviction do not remove the risk of “conditions of administrative isolation”.

The court also heard that Assange had faced a “menacing, threatening and frightening” situation while under surveillance when he lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Mr Fitzgerald argued in written submissions that claims of “extreme measures of surveillance”, alongside subsequent “recent disclosures about CIA plans from the same period in time to seriously harm Julian Assange”, justified earlier concerns for the safety and privacy of his partner Stella Moris.

Since 2019, Assange is being held at Belmarsh Prison after he was taken out of Ecuador’s embassy by the police and then arrested for violating bail conditions.

He entered the building in 2012 as a way to avoid being extradited to Sweden.