British court defers Assange extradition ruling

13th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British judges on Wednesday deferred their decision on an appeal by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The High Court in London heard two days of arguments from Assange's lawyers and from Swedish prosecutors as the Australian sought to overturn a ruling in February that approved his extradition.

"We will hand down our judgment in the usual way," said Judge John Thomas, one of two judges dealing with the case, referring to a written decision.

He did not say when the ruling would be given.

Assange was arrested by British police in December after Sweden requested his arrest for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape against two women. He denies the claims.

Lawyers for Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday rejected defence claims that a rape allegation against Assange, made by one of the women, would not count as such under English law.

Clare Montgomery accused Ben Emmerson, one of Assange's lawyers, of "winding English law back to the 19th century" with his definition of consent.

"They (the alleged victims) are describing circumstances in which they did not freely consent without coercion," Montgomery said.

"They were forced either by physical force or by the sense of being trapped into the position where they had no choice and therefore submitted to Mr Assange's intentions."

On the allegation that one of the women woke up to find Assange having sex with her without a condom, Montgomery said: "She may later have acquiesced in it... but that didn't make the initial penetration anything other than an act of rape she had not consented to."

"This woman had never had unprotected sex and it was a very important issue to her," she said.

Montgomery was later challenged by judge Thomas over her arguments that the European arrest warrant used on Assange was proportionate.

Discussing whether it would be sensible for Assange to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in some way before the extradition goes ahead, Thomas said: "If you actually take sensible steps to eliminate problems in the spirit of judicial cooperation, you may find the process simpler."

Another of Assange's lawyers, Mark Summers, reiterated arguments that the European arrest warrant was invalid because he is only wanted for questioning and has not been charged.

"There was from the very outset of this case an easier way to proceed, a more proportionate way to proceed," he told the court.

He said the EU's executive Commission had examined the European arrest warrant system and issued guidance that warrants should not be issued in circumstances where there is a "less onerous" alternative.

Assange took on a new legal team after a hearing in February which abandoned the bombastic statements by his previous lawyers warning that he could be deported to the United States and incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Australian former hacker has himself remained uncharacteristically silent during the latest proceedings, refusing to comment to reporters on Wednesday.

At his previous appearances he gave long press conferences claiming the allegations were politically motivated and linked to his whistleblower website's releases of huge caches of leaked US government documents.

Assange has been living under strict bail conditions, including wearing an electronic ankle tag and a curfew, at a friend's mansion in eastern England.

© 2011 AFP

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