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Julian Assange’s statement today

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.

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  1. Essentially the matter turns on the Swedish sexual assault case against Julian Assange.

    Is there any reason why the trial cannot start in Sweden with Assange being absent, at least until the Court decides whether Assange has a case to answer or not? What prevents the Swedish prosecution from leading its evidence-in-chief from its witnesses, which of course will include the two female complainants. Equally, what prevents Assange’s lawyers from cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses on their evidence given under oath. By then the strength or otherwise of the prosecution’s evidence will be exposed to the world and the credibility of the Swedish judiciary will be in the spotlight. If the Court finds there is no case to answer, then Julian Assange need not go to Sweden and the extradition order would have to be revoked by the Swedish Court.

    Get the prosecution’s evidence on record and take it from there.

  2. (knowing nothing about the Swedish legal system, and thinking about this as a case in England and Wales)

    If you were the prosecutor, would you want to charge and take the case forwards without having interviewed the suspect? This seems to carry a big risk of looking incompetent when the defence gets going in court. Presuming your witnesses are young, fit and not in any way, err, ‘flaky’, why not wait until you can interview the suspect, re-interview your witnesses and then make an informed decision? If Assange is still in Knightsbridge in a year or so, you could always go ahead then. Obviously there’d be plenty of pre-trial legal argument either way.

  3. Clearly our policemen need to be issued with lassoos a la John Wayne.

    Another backward step 🙂

  4. @ Old Red – Assange has not been actually charged with an (alleged) offence by Sweden. The Swedish prosecuting authority wished to interview him. A trial cannot start without a formal charge.

    Look at the photographs of the Embassy. Whatever else one thinks of their report, the Daily Mail has some good pictures:–Julian-Assange-taunts-UK-demands-end-Americas-war-whistleblowers-tirade-embassy-balcony.html

    It is clear that the balcony is behind the fence of the Embassy. I would have no doubt that – even if Assange had stood fully on the balcony – he would still have been within the Embassy.

    In theory, some Police Officer might have shouted out – “Mr Assange, you are now under arrest.” Would that have been effective given the supposed inviolability of the Embassy.

    “Terms for surrender”? There have been suggestions in the media that a possible solution is a deal between Sweden, UK and Ecuador which would involve assurances about non-extradition from Sweden to anywhere else – particularly, of course, USA. I am not surprised that Assange did not refer to this. IF such a deal is under negotiation then it would be wisest not to say anything about it publicly until the deal was “signed, sealed and delivered.” However, I think I agree with Head of Legal that Sweden will have problems committing itself to such a deal.

    It is interesting that Assange referred to Police having been in/on the internal fire escape of the embassy. Has the UK therefore already breached the inviolability of the Embassy. I don’t know one way or the other but this is an allegation which the UK authorities ought to clear up.

    Also, interesting that Garzon is involved. He has been a controversial character in Spain but that’s another story. To some he is a hero and to others a villain. Many in Spain did not wish him to rake over the period when Franco was coming to power and in power.

  5. @ObiterJ

    As I understand it the embassy is only one flat in a Knightsbridge mansion block; a quick Google suggests at least 15 flats containing the Columbian Embassy, Spanish Defence Office and some flats owned by Saudi royals.

    I can be pretty certain that the internal fire escape would almost certainly be a common area within the block and therefore it is doubtful that it is part of the Embassy under the convention.

    The balcony is a more interesting question and I imagine that you’d need to look at the lease for the flat to determine this. I know of some leases where the ‘balconies’ are really just big window sills and therefore part of the exterior of the building and not part of the flat and others where the balcony are part of the leasehold. Of course I have no idea whether the convention would use the leasehold to define the embassy or if there is something documented with FCO that defines the extent of the embassy. I doubt that the convention was drawn up by a London property lawyer so it’s probably all a little vague.

  6. Lets just stand back a moment and have a look at this…
    Since when has a person accused of a sex-crime (dubious circumstances, questionable witness etc etc) been deported (apart from Gray Glitter of course…)? Since when has a person so accused taken refuge in an embassy and pleaded asylum? And since when has so much public money been spent on trying to winkle said person out of said embassy, which if taken to fruition would have violated internationally valued treaties… even the Khmer Rouge didn’t go crashing into the French Embassy… Khmer Rouge-war zone-national hatred of the West and colonial capitalism-revenge seeking-rejection of diplomatic relation – _still_ didn’t violate the embassy. UK Government-alleged criminal matter (shaky evidence) in a foreign state-peace time – Met about to violate diplomatic no-go area. Difference? Tory policy of “we don’t care”? UK Government policy of “whatever the US says”?

    Oh yes, I forgot. He _has stuff_ and the US wont rest until they have it back – or at least prevented more of it from getting out.

    When will they get a life?

  7. “3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution”

    Surely the answer is a sedan chair.

    That is without doubt a means of transport, and can be taken out through the embassy door and into a van, and thence to an aeroplane. Once he is safely in Equador we can all forget about this embarrassing charade.