- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LONDON — Britain’s Supreme Court has endorsed the extradition of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange to Sweden, bringing the secret-spilling Internet activist a big step closer to prosecution in a Scandinavian court.

But a question mark hung over the decision after Mr. Assange’s attorney made the highly unusual suggestion that she would try to reopen the case, raising the prospect of more legal wrangling.

Mr. Assange, 40, has spent the better part of two years fighting attempts to send him to Sweden, where he is wanted in connection with sex-crime allegations. He has yet to be charged.

The U.K. side of that struggle came to an uncertain end Wednesday, with the nation's highest court ruling 5-2 that the warrant seeking his arrest was properly issued - and Mr. Assange’s attorney saying she might contest the ruling.


Supreme Court President Nicholas Phillips, reading out the verdict, acknowledged that coming to a conclusion in the high-profile case had “not been simple.”

Mr. Assange’s story has been shot through with international intrigue, online activism and scandal. But the case before the Supreme Court hinged on a narrow technicality: Did Swedish officials properly order his arrest?

His attorneys say “no.” A prosecutor, not a judge, issued the warrant, a practice they have described as arbitrary and unfair. Swedish officials say “yes,” arguing that, in Sweden as in other European countries, prosecutors carry out a quasi-judicial function.

The Supreme Court came down on Sweden’s side Wednesday, with Mr. Phillips ruling that “the request for Mr. Assange’s extradition has been lawfully made, and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed.”

But scarcely had Mr. Phillips finished speaking before Mr. Assange’s attorney, Dinah Rose, was on her feet, complaining that the court’s ruling largely relied on a treaty whose interpretation she says she never had the chance to challenge.

In a surprise move, she requested extra time to study the judgment with an eye toward trying to reopen the case.

Mr. Phillips gave Ms. Rose two weeks to present her case, meaning an extradition wouldn’t happen until the second half of June at the earliest.

Such a maneuver is practically unheard of, according to lawyer Karen Todner, whose law firm handles many high-profile extradition cases.

“It’s very unusual,” she told the Associated Press. “I’ve never known them to reopen a case.”

Any eventual extradition of Mr. Assange could, however, be much later.

Even if the Supreme Court refuses to revisit its judgment, Mr. Assange could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, although Ms. Todner said he was unlikely to make much headway there unless he could argue that his physical safety or psychological well-being would be at risk in Sweden.