A few thoughts, following Julian Assange’s extraordinary statement from the windows of the Ecuadorian embassy earlier today.
First, the physical arrangements. What was interesting was that he didn’t even step on to the balcony proper; he remained firmly on the threshold of the window throughout. I wish I were good enough at land law to be confident in saying whether the balcony would have been inside or outside the Ecuadorian premises – Assange, though, took no chances. Whatever the strict legal position, I doubt in any event that police officers would have wanted to attempt any sort of verbal arrest that they were unable to follow up physically, when Assange ducked back inside the building. An arrest only really makes sense when the police can actually get the hands on their man.
Second, Assange hardly mentioned Sweden, and made no reference to the serious offences Swedish prosecutors want to put to him. Nor was there any indication of any terms on which he’d consider surrendering himself, although a Wikileaks spokesman appeared to say later on BBC World News that he’d go to Sweden if given an assurance that he would not be extradited to America in connection with his Wikileaks work. But I doubt whether the Swedish government could properly give such an assurance even if they wanted to. Respect for the rule of law means that, if there ever were an extradition request from the US, Sweden’s courts would need to consider it in accordance with their own law, and Sweden’s international law obligations to the US.
Finally, we’re no wiser than we were this morning about what if anything Assange plans to do next. This BBC report says
Shortly before Mr Assange delivered his speech, his legal adviser Baltasar Garzon said the Australian had told lawyers to carry out “a legal action” protecting “the rights of Wikileaks [and] Julian himself”.
Mr Garzon, a former judge, did not give specific details of the action but said it would also extend to “all those currently being investigated”.
What this legal action could be, I have no idea, nor whether it might have any substance. I know that last week Garzon was reported as saying there could be an application to the International Court of Justice – which isn’t something Assange as an individual can actually do. Ecuador could, conceivably.
I’m doubt there’s any legal step Assange himself can take in order to seize the initiative – at least not in this country. He must simply sit and wait, and decide how long he want to put off what seems the inevitable moment of his arrest.
But Assange is nothing if not full of surprises.