Blackstone silk fails to stop Julian Assange extradition

Matrix Chambers’ Clare Montgomery QC has persuaded the Supreme Court to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden to face allegations of sex offences.

Dinah Rose QC
Dinah Rose QC

Montgomery was instructed to represent the Swedish Prosecution Authority in its defence of an appeal by Assange, who was represented by Blackstone Chambers silk Dinah Rose QC.

There was drama in the court after Assange’s legal team was granted 14 days to consider whether to attempt to reopen the dispute because the seven-strong bench considered a point that was not argued before it.

The decision, in which Lady Hale and Lord Mance dissented, stated that the Swedish Prosecution Authority was a judicial authority and that his arrest warrant had consequently been legally issued.

However, Rose said the ruling had been based on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, yet the provisions of that convention had not been raised during the hearing.

Supreme Court president Lord Phillips gave the substantive judgment, finding that the UK signed up to a European framework that would create “a single system for achieving the surrender of those accused or convicted of serious criminal offences and this required a uniform interpretation of the phrase ’judicial authority’”.

He continued: “There was a strong domestic presumption in favour of interpreting a statute in a way which did not place the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations.

“An earlier draft of the framework decision would have put the question in this appeal beyond doubt, because it stated expressly that a prosecutor was a judicial authority. That statement had been removed in the final version.

“In considering the background to this change, the majority concluded that the intention had not been to restrict the meaning of judicial authority to a judge.”

In addition, he said, had the intention been to restrict the powers of a European arrest warrant to a judge “I would expect this to have been expressly stated”. It was difficult to see why member states would restrict the authority to a judge, he added.

Lord Philips SCJ continued: “I find it likely that the removal of the definition of judicial authority as being a ’judge or public prosecutor’ was not because member states wished to narrow its meaning to a judge, but because they were not content that its meaning should be restricted to a judge or a public prosecutor.”

Dissenting, Mance SCJ said that the correct interpretation of ‘judicial authority’ in the framework was ambiguous.

He said: “Ministers repeatedly gave assurances or endorsed assumptions that an issuing judicial authority would have to be a court, judge or magistrate.”

Legal line-up

For the appellant Assange:

Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC leading Matrix Chambers’ Mark Summers and Helen Law, instructed by Birnberg Peirce & Partners partner Gareth Peirce.

For the respondent Swedish Prosecution Authority:

Matrix Chambers’ Clare Montgomery QC leading Aaron Watkins, also of Matrix, and 5 St Andrew’s Hill’s Hannah Pye, instructed by Special Crime Division, Crown Prosecution Service.

For the interveners Gerard Batten MEP and Vladimir Bukovsky:

Paul Diamond instructed by Chambers of Paul Diamond.

For the intervener Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC:

P Jonathan Brodie QC of Arnot Manderson Advocates, instructed by the Appeals Unit, Crown Office.