2012-05-31 Transcript: UK Supreme Court gives judgment in Assange extradition case

Transcript of the UK Supreme Court handing down the judgment in Julian Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority, 09:15 on 30 May 2012. The full judgment and further statement is available at the UK Supreme Court's website.

UK Supreme Court President Lord Nicholas Phillips: The Swedish public prosecutor has requested the extradition of Mr Assange on charges of serious sexual offenses. (Note: Mr Assange has not been charged with any crime.) That request has raised a point of law of general public importance. It is not a point in respect of which the particular facts of Mr Assange's case have any relevance. This summary is about that point of law.

It used to be the case that this country would not extradite a person to another European country until a court here had considered the evidence against that person. The court would not approve extradition unless the evidence justified his being subjected to a criminal trial. All that changed in 2001 when we gave effect to the 1957 European Convention on Extradition. The following year, the provisions of that convention were superseded by an agreement reached between the members of the European Union. Terms of that agreement were set out in a European Union framework decision which this country was under a duty to implement. The framework decision directed that if a judicial authority in one state requested the extradition of a person from another state, the latter state would give effect to the request without considering the evidence. It was for the requesting state to consider whether the evidence justified extradition.

The United Kingdom gave effect to the framework decision in the Extradition Act 2003. That act provided that subject to certain conditions this country will extradite a person if we receive a request from a judicial authority in another member state. Point of law is simply what do the words 'judicial authority' mean.

Mr Assange has argued that they mean a court or judge. Sweden's request has been perused by a public prosecutor who is not a court or judge, so Mr Assange's argument that the request is invalid and he doesn't have to go back to Sweden. Point of law is simple to state, but it has not been simple to resolve. Indeed, we have only reached our decision by a majority of five to two.

There was discussion in Parliament about the words 'judicial authority' when the bill which became the Extradition Act was being debated. The bill used the words 'judicial authority' because those words were in the framework decision, and the Act was designed to give effect to the framework decision. It is clear that some members of Parliament believed the words 'judical authority' in the framework decision meant a court or a judge. Indeed, one minister specifically stated to the Parliamentary committee that this was the case. But he was mistaken.

'Judicial authority' is the English translation of the French words 'autorité judiciaire'. The framework decision is in both English and French, so it is necessary to have regard also to what the French phrase means. French phrase has a wider meaning than the English phrase. In French, the words 'judicial authority' can be used for public prosecutor. When the member states implemented the framework decision, many of them appointed public prosecutors to perform the role of the judicial authority. There was no suggestion that this was contrary to the framework decision. Having particular regard to this fact, the majority of the court are agreed that in the framework decision the words 'judicial authority' or 'autorité judiciaire' bear a meaning that includes a public prosecutor. Two members of the court, Lady Hale and Lord Mance, consider that this does not determine the meaning of judicial authority in the Extradition Act. In that Act, they mean a court or judge, as the minister had explained.

The other members of the court do not agree. Parliament's intention in passing the Extradition Act was to give effect to the framework decision. This was necessary in order to produce a uniform and coherent system of extradition in Europe. It was also necessary in order to comply with the duty of the United Kingdom under international law. So there is a presumption that the words 'judicial authority' should have the same meaning in the Extradition Act that they have in the framework decision. The understanding of some members of Parliament or the statement of the minister as to the meaning of the framework decision does not displace this presumption.

For these reasons, the majority has concluded the the Swedish public prosecutor was a judicial authority within the meaning of both the framework decision and the Extradition Act. It follows that the request for Mr Assange's extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed.

Dinah Rose QC: My Lords, my Lady, I understand that you've notified but we did have one matter we wanted to raise. You will appreciate that we've only had a very limited opportunity to study this lengthy and learned decision and also that we've had no opportunity as of yet to consult with our client. However, there is one matter which causes us considerable concern on our initial reading of the decision. And that is that it would appear that a majority of the members of this court have decided the point either principally or solely on the basis of the interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a point with respect was not argued during the appeal and which we were given no opportunity to address.

Now obviously this court will have in mind its recent decision in the case of Lukaszewski, holding that Article 6 applies to extradition proceedings of the United Kingdom. We are therefore currently considering our position and whether or not it will be necessary with great regret to make an application to this court that this matter should be reopened so that we have an opportunity to argue this point. I say this only to flag it up, because obviously at the moment we need to study the judgments and consult with our client. And I appreciate the urgency of the situation and therefore thought I ought to make that known publicly as soon as possible.

Lord Phillips: Yes, thank you, Ms Montgomery, you must consider...

Rose QC: I am not technically Ms Montgomery, although easily mistaken for her.

Lord Phillips: Ms Rose. I beg your pardon. You must consider the judgment at proper leisure and if you wish to make an application we will afford you the opportunity to do so.

Rose QC: Yes. I don't know how long your Lordships and your Ladyship would be prepared to give us to make that application. We're obviously operating under some difficulty given the imminent bank holiday weekend.

Lord Phillips: We'll afford you two weeks.

Rose QC: My Lord, in those circumstances, as I understand it the order that was agreed was that this order should be stayed for seven days. But given the point I've just raised, can I ask your Lordships and your Ladyship to vary that order so that it is stayed for 14 days to permit us to make that application.

Lord Phillips: That seems a reasonable request and we'll accede to it.

Rose QC: I'm grateful.

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