The British High Court of England and Wales on Monday said it would allow the imprisoned publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, to, in essence, appeal a ruling that would have seen him extradited to the United States where he faces a possible 175 years in prison for the publication of classified documents and videos.
The High Court technically refused to allow an appeal to the Supreme Court, but, in a legal loophole, it left it up to that court to determine whether it will grant permission to consider one legal issue.
“We certify a single point of law … in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings,” the High Court said in an appearance that lasted less than a minute.
This single point of law refers to whether the United States was legally permitted to provide assurances to the High Court of Assange’s humane treatment in the United States after it had failed to do so during the initial hearing that blocked the extradition. During a Dec. 10 hearing, which vacated the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January 2021, the high court accepted the appeal by the U.S. to approve the extradition. Baraitser had ruled that Assange could not be extradited because of inhumane conditions in U.S. prisons that would make Assange, who suffers from physical and mental health issues, a suicide risk. The United States, in its appeal of her ruling, gave assurances that Assange would receive adequate medical and psychological care and would not be subject to measures commonly used in high profiled cases such as prolonged isolation and Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, which impose draconian rules limited any communication and allows the government to monitor meetings with attorneys in violation of attorney-client privilege.
It is now up to the British Supreme Court, if it accepts the appeal, to decide this one issue — could the U.S. offer assurances after Judge Baraitser had ruled against extradition. Assange has 14 days to apply to the British Supreme Court to hear his case.
The U.S effort to extradite Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen, has been widely condemned by human rights and press groups including Amnesty International, The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, which call the persecution of Assange an existential threat to press freedom.