21 January 2021 by

In The Government of the United States v Julian Assange (2021), the District Decide sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court docket discharged the American extradition request in opposition to the founding father of WikiLeaks as a result of there’s a substantial danger that he would commit suicide. Given Julian Assange’s political notoriety as an avowed whistle-blower, nevertheless, the judgment is important for its dismissal of the defence’s free speech arguments. This text analyses why these human rights submissions have been unsuccessful.

The Felony Prices in opposition to Assange

In December 2017, Assange was charged with a conspiracy to commit illegal laptop intrusion opposite to Title 18 of the US Code. Assange is alleged to have conspired with Chelsea Manning to steal categorised materials. Manning was beforehand convicted by courtroom martial in July 2013 for violations of the Espionage Act 1917 and different associated offences.

Subsequently, in Could 2019, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment containing eighteen counts alleging additional offences associated to the acquiring, receiving and disclosure of “Nationwide Protection Info” (opposite to Title 18).

The data Assange is alleged to have unlawfully acquired and revealed pertains to the unlawful actions of the USA’ army and intelligence businesses throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to the abusive remedy of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. An extradition request was submitted to the British authorities in June 2019.

The Grounds of Objection to Extradition

The submissions made by the defence have been wide-ranging, extremely intricate, and principally unsuccessful. Along with the jurisdictional and free speech arguments mentioned right here, the defence additionally contended the request constituted an abuse of course of and that there have been statutory bars to Assange’s extradition below the Extradition Act (EA) 2003 on the idea that the extradition was politically motivated (s.81) and as a result of passage of time (s.82). The Court docket additionally rejected submissions below s.87 EA 2003 that the US prison justice system would fail in safeguarding Assange’s rights below Article 6, Article 7 and Article 10 of the ECHR.

The defence was profitable, nevertheless, in arguing that extradition would represent oppression as a consequence of well being, opposite to s.91 EA.

The UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003

The defence’s principal submission was that Article four of the UK-US extradition treaty 2003 prohibits extradition for a “political offence” and the Court docket subsequently lacked the jurisdiction to listen to this case. This argument engages the anterior query of which authorized regime governs the extradition association between the UK and the US.

Assange is claimed to be charged with “political offences” as a result of a lot of the prison expenses are introduced below the Espionage Act 1917. The “defining authorized attribute” of all 18 offences“is an intention to acquire or disclose US authorities state secrets and techniques in a way that was damaging to the safety of the federal government” [37]. In line with worldwide case-law and tutorial commentary, espionage is to be thought-about a “purely political offence” as a result of it’s “by definition a criminal offense dedicated in opposition to the political order of the state” [37]. The defence argued that an extradition request made in breach of the 2003 treaty would violate the rule of regulation and render Assange’s detention each arbitrary and inconsistent with ECHR Article 5.

As talked about beforehand, the veracity of this proposition turned on the identification of the proper governing regime. The US submitted the Extradition Act 2003 (EA 2003) offers a self-contained regime for extradition.


The Court docket dominated the defence’s reliance upon the 2003 treaty is constitutionally flawed. In JH Rayner (Mincing Lane) Ltd v Department of Trade and Industry [1990], confirmed within the extradition context in Norris v SSHD [2006], it was established that the provisions of a treaty don’t in themselves confer rights on a person. Due to this fact, the 2003 treaty confered no private rights upon Assange. This was buttressed by the truth that when Parliament enacted the EA 2003, it clearly eliminated the political offences bar which had been obtainable in earlier extradition laws from 1870 to 1989. [50]

Twin Criminality and the Extradition Act 2003

The second objection raised by the defence was that the allegations in opposition to Assange don’t meet the “twin criminality” necessities of s.137 of the EA 2003. Within the submission of the US, Assange’s alleged conduct would quantity to offences below the next English statutes: s.1 Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1911, s.7 OSA 1920, s.1, s.2, s.5 and s.7 OSA 1989 and s.1 Computer Misuse Act 1990, along side the offence of conspiracy below s.1 Criminal Law Act (CLA) 1977. These expenses are listed at para [90] of the judgment.


For the needs of adjudication, District Decide Baraitser categorised the costs in opposition to Assange into three most important strands corresponding with equal offences below English prison regulation. The primary strand involved Assange’s alleged involvement in a conspiracy with Ms Manning and different laptop hackers to acquire unauthorised entry to a pc. The second strand associated to Assange aiding and abetting Ms Manning to speak in confidence to him, unlawfully, the diplomatic cables, the Iraq guidelines of engagement and detainee evaluation briefs. The third strand associated to Assange publishing paperwork on the WikiLeaks web site.

Within the view of the Court docket, “Mr Assange’s alleged actions went past the mere encouragement of a whistle-blower.” [96] Particularly, this was as a result of it was alleged that Assange agreed to assist Ms Manning decipher an alphanumeric code to allow her to keep away from detection for unauthorised entry to a secret laptop account. This separated his exercise from that of an strange investigative journalist. [99]

Felony Legislation Obligations and Journalistic Conduct

The Court docket additional held these alleged offences have been suitable with Article 10. In Regina v Shayler [2002], the Home of Lords thought-about Article 10 within the context of s.1(1) of the OSA 1989. David Shayler, a former member of the Safety Companies, was prosecuted for disclosing categorised paperwork to journalists. He did so within the perception that he was exposing unlawfulness and procedural irregularities within the service.

Lord Bingham held that, however the position of the press in exposing abuses and miscarriages of justice, the restrictions imposed by the OSA have been directed to legit goals below Article 10(2), together with the necessity for the safety and intelligence companies to maintain info secret. Additional, there was neither a public curiosity nor a nationwide curiosity defence obtainable to a cost below this provision.

The defence sought to tell apart Assange’s conduct by arguing that he was engaged within the “gathering of data” — the criminalisation of which “offends the core notion of Article 10.” [115] Nonetheless, the Decide relied on the reasoning in Brambilla and others v. Italy [2016], through which three journalists have been convicted of offences after intercepting carabinieri radio communications to acquire info on crime scenes for the needs of reporting, noting {that a} journalist can’t declare an unique immunity from prison legal responsibility for the only cause that the offence was dedicated throughout the efficiency journalistic features [116].

Moreover, the scheme of the OSA could be undermined “if the disclosures made by a Crown servant, on this case by Ms. Manning to Mr. Assange, have been handled in another way to the disclosures of her co-conspirator.” [118] Considerably, the Decide held that “had Mr. Assange determined to not help Ms. Manning to take the knowledge within the varied methods described above, and merely acquired it from her, then the Article 10 concerns could be totally different.” [118]


That is an intriguing hypothetical as a result of it suggests however for Assange’s alleged involvement within the theft of the fabric, his place would have been similar to that of different media retailers, which legitimately exercised their press freedoms in publishing the leaked info (albeit on a redacted foundation). However, for causes explored beneath, his standing would finally have remained distinguished.

Accountable Journalism vs Information Dumps

The Court docket’s consideration of the third strand – the publication of paperwork on the WikiLeaks web site – pertains to a wider debate in regards to the scope of a journalist’s moral obligations when utilizing the web. Importantly, the publishing expenses have been restricted to these paperwork which named particular person informants. S.5 OSA 1989 expressly applies to people, which incorporates publishers, who will not be the unique leaker of the knowledge. The US submitted that Assange knew the “unconsidered and indiscriminate” dissemination of informants’ names might endanger their lives. [123]

The defence argued that even when there was a danger of harm, Article 10 would however sanction Assange’s disclosures. It’s because “the danger of hurt to a small variety of sources, described by the defence as “unintentional, small and unsubstantiated”, could be weighted in opposition to the danger of hurt to “tens of millionsdoubtlessly topic to global-scale ongoing struggle crimes and torture”. [80]

It was held that Assange’s disclosure was not protected by Article 10. The Court docket distinguished between “accountable journalism” and a “information dump”, drawing on choices in Stoll v Switzerland (2008) and Gîrleanu v Romania (2019), to rule that Assange’s resolution to leak the names of informants was not accountable journalism permitted by Article 10. This may vest in him “the proper to make the choice to sacrifice the protection of those few people, realizing nothing of their circumstances or the risks they confronted, within the identify of free speech.” [131] The Court docket emphasised free speech will not be a ‘trump card’ even the place issues of significant public concern are disclosed (Stoll). [135] Total, this meant the provisions of the OSA 1989, insofar as they’re used “to prosecute the disclosure of the names of informants, are obligatory in a democratic society within the pursuits of nationwide safety.” [137]


From a theoretical perspective, the Court docket’s dismissal of the defence argument entailed a rejection of a blunt utilitarian strategy to the train of free speech rights. Irrespective of how necessary the trigger, a self-appointed particular person might not cite free speech as a defence to compromising the rights-based integrity of one other individual. The web doesn’t launch a journalist from their obligation to respect the informational rights of others.

The Proper to Fact/Necessity

The Court docket additionally dismissed the defence’s submission that the general public has a “proper to reality” in regards to the prevalence of human rights violations. It’s because it was held to not be a authorized rule recognised in both worldwide or home regulation.

Assange’s defence that it was “obligatory” to publish the knowledge to stop “hazard to life” and “critical damage” was rejected. Most significantly, it was held that Assange had not discharged the evidential burden of necessity. Very similar to Mr Shayler, “Mr Assange didn’t know the content material of the fabric till it was in his possession and so can’t argue that he obtained it with a view to forestall hurt to others.” [147] Equally, in relation to the publishing expenses, he couldn’t present proof of an “particular person incident” from which he sought to guard the general public.


The defence submissions on necessity echo the 2003 prosecution of Katharine Gun, who argued it was obligatory for her to breach the Official Secrets and techniques Act to cease an unlawful struggle in opposition to Iraq. In any case, the US was appropriate to look at the defence sought to “elide the defence of necessity with a public curiosity defence”, which, as confirmed in Shayler doesn’t exist below the OSA 1989 [140].

The absence of any form of public curiosity defence, nevertheless, raises critical questions on whether or not there should be one. In its 2020 report on the Protection of Official Data, the Legislation Fee beneficial the creation of statutory public curiosity defence as a result of it couldn’t “make certain that the present legislative scheme, within the OSA 1989, affords satisfactory safety to Article 10 rights below the ECHR”. Considerably, among the many 5 Eyes nations, it’s only the UK and the US which make no provision for any form of public curiosity defence. Given the salience of freedom of data to democracy, reform is unquestionably so as.


Assange’s free speech arguments have been unsuccessful in discharging the American extradition request as a result of there exist no defences for breaches of the Official Secrets and techniques Act. The scope of safety afforded to “accountable journalism” by Article 10 additionally corresponds with the lawfulness of a journalist’s conduct. The Court docket couldn’t moderately have reached one other conclusion. An American attraction is pending.

Sapan Maini-Thompson is coaching to develop into a barrister specialising in prison, public and human rights regulation. He tweets @SapanMaini