Justice Severely Delayed and Denied: UK High Court Rejects Assange's Request For Appeal After Nearly A Year

Justice Severely Delayed and Denied: UK High Court Rejects Assange's Request For Appeal After Nearly A Year
His Majesty's High Court of Justice in London in the United Kingdom (Photo: waldopepper)

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The United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice rejected WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s appeal against extradition to the United States. A three-page decision was issued by one judge, Sir Jonathan Swift.

Assange waited in detention in His Majesty’s Belmarsh Prison for nearly a year. The grounds for appeal were submitted to the appeals court in the middle of July in 2022.

In May, Stephen Kenny, a lawyer for Assange in Australia, responded to the fact that Assange was still waiting for a ruling from the court.

“A judge has simply got to read them and do what we call an assessment on the papers,” Kenny said. “Which means he’s got to read them and go, oh yes, he’s got something to argue about.”

“It’s not that he should win or anything. He’s got to have an arguable case. It’s a pretty low bar, and I reckon despite the thousands of pages that his lawyers have lodged, I reckon that I could do it in a couple of days. Maybe a week if I was really slow.”

“Justice delayed is justice denied. So I have no faith in them,” Kenny added.

Such a sentiment was well-founded. Not only did Judge Swift and the High Court of Justice inflict punishment as they declined to rule on Assange’s request for an appeal, but ultimately, the court never intended to grant Assange his day in court. He never had an opportunity to argue that extradition to the United States to face Espionage Act charges would violate his right to freedom of expression as a journalist.

Rebecca Vincent, who is the campaigns director for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reacted, “It is absurd that a single judge can issue a three-page decision that could land Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life and permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world.”

“The historical weight of what happens next cannot be overstated; it is time to put a stop to this relentless targeting of Assange and act instead to protect journalism and press freedom. Our call on President Biden is now more urgent than ever: drop these charges, close the case against Assange, and allow for his release without further delay,” Vincent said.

Freedom of the Press Foundation advocacy director Seth Stern declared, “The idea of Assange or anyone being tried in a U.S. court for obtaining and publishing confidential documents the same way investigative reporters do every day should be terrifying to all Americans.”

On Twitter, Committee to Protect Journalists President Jodie Ginsberg wrote, “The U.S. should drop its charges against Julian Assange. This case has gone on far too long. The prosecution of Assange in the United States would set a harmful legal precedent and deliver a damaging blow to press freedom everywhere.”

Stella Assange laid out what happens next now that Assange is even closer to extradition:

On Tuesday next week my husband Julian Assange will make a renewed application for appeal to the High Court. The matter will then proceed to a public hearing before two new judges at the High Court and we remain optimistic that we will prevail and that Julian will not be extradited to the United States where he faces charges that could result in him spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the U.S. government.

RSF painted an even bleaker picture. "This leaves only one final step in the UK courts, as the defence has five working days to submit an appeal of only 20 pages to a panel of two judges, who will convene a public hearing."

"Further appeals will not be possible at the domestic level, but Assange could bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights," the press freedom group noted.

Judge Swift was one of the judges on the High Court of Justice, who in December 2022 approved the UK government’s scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

As the Associated Press reported, human rights groups opposed the scheme because Rwanda has a “poor human rights record.” They maintained it was “inhumane to send people more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) to a country they don’t want to live in.”

The High Court of Justice previously ruled in favor of the U.S. government after they appealed a district judge’s decision that found extradition would be oppressive to Julian Assange’s mental health given the widespread inhuman treatment that has been documented in U.S. jails and prisons. That ruling came on International Human Rights Day in December 2021.

Diplomatic assurances from the U.S. State Department were accepted, even though Assange’s legal team had argued the assurances were improperly offered because it was nearly impossible for Assange to test pledges from the U.S. government. They were not put forward in the extradition hearing prior to the district judge’s decision that blocked extradition.

Furthermore, Declassified UK reported that Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett of the High Court of Justice had been a “close personal friend” of Sir Ian Duncan for 40 years. Duncan, as foreign minister, was involved in the operation that forced Assange out of the Ecuador embassy in London. (Burnett was not present for the announcement of the decision.)

President Joe Biden’s administration was asked on World Press Freedom Day in May about the United States’ hypocrisy in objecting to Russia's detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges while pursuing an Espionage Act prosecution against Assange.

The reporter referred to advocates who contended the U.S. government had lost the “moral high ground.” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre blurted, “Look, I’m not going to speak to Julian Assange and that case from here.”