2012-05-25 Will the European Arrest Warrant system set a dangerous precedent?

On 30 May 2012 the UK Supreme Court will announce the ruling in the case regarding the extradition to Sweden of Julian Assange, after Assange has spent 540 days under house arrest without charge. Following a European Arrest Warrant issued in December 2010 on allegations of sexual misconduct, Assange submitted himself for arrest. Though Assange has not been charged, Swedish prosecutors have sought extradition from the UK for questioning.

The European Arrest Warrant system was created in 2002 in response to 9/11, intending to streamline the extradition process for serious crimes. It works on the basis of trust between European countries, that the judicial authority issuing the arrest warrant is correct. The validity of the allegations is irrelevant to the extradition process, and probable cause need not be shown. If an extradition order is issued, it must be carried out. As such, because of the EAW system, Britain must proceed to carry out the arrest warrant, and agree to extradition.

Swedish prosecutors' impropriety

There are numerous examples that the Swedish prosecutors' impropriety has affected the legitimacy of the case. The Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm, Eva Finné, initially threw out the allegation of rape after reviewing the file. However after an appeal, the investigation into Julian Assange was reopened. Information routinely made its way into the hands of the press, along with inaccurate information, which would then be repeated by media outlets around the globe. The prosecution has withheld information that is pertinent to the case, including text messages that challenge the legitimacy of the allegations, and before the arrest did not provide Assange a copy of the allegations in writing. Assange only learned of the formal allegations against him after reading the EAW firsthand on the day of his arrest.

From when the allegations first arose in August 2010, to the time of the issuing of the EAW in December 2010, the prosecution has sought Assange for questioning. Assange however has remained open to questioning. For 5 weeks after the initial allegations, Assange remained in Sweden, offering to cooperate with authorities, but was never taken up on it. While under house arrest, he has maintained his offer, extending it to include telephone or video link. The prosecution has thus far refused to question him in this manner, insisting he be extradited to Sweden to face questioning.

A dangerous precedent for legal abuse

Extradition on the basis of being wanted for questioning sets a dangerous precedent for legal abuse. Because a case under the EAW does not have to be shown to have probable cause, potentially anyone can be extradited for questioning. Because in the EAW system, other countries need not challenge the prosecution's reasoning for the arrest warrant, potentially anyone can be extradited for questioning for any reason. In Assange's case, he could be extradited for questioning, even though he has agreed to be questioned not only in Sweden, but abroad as well. The refusal of his offers by Swedish prosecutors is not considered in the extradition process.

Will the European Arrest Warrant system and the UK Extradition Act of 2003 set a dangerous precedent of allowing extradition for questioning? If Assange's extradition is allowed to proceed, it will leave a large door open for abuse by prosecutors across Europe. It casts doubt on the possibility of a fair trial, and does not allow people who have not been charged or indicted for any offence any protection. Safeguards for the accused have been removed, leaving them in the trusting hands of their prosecutors.

What was intended to streamline and fast-track extradition for serious crimes has turned into a grave overreach. The nonexistence of legal protections for the accused does not serve the rule of law, it serves as a vehicle for injustice. Julian Assange's case exposes the weakest points of the EAW and shows how politically motivated or dubious accusations can result not in dismissal but extradition.

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