WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has won the first stage of his Supreme Court bid to appeal against the decision to extradite him to the United States.
The 50-year-old is wanted in America over the leak of thousands of top secret documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In December 2021, US authorities won their High Court challenge to overturn an earlier ruling that Assange should not be extradited due to a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.
His fiancee, Stella Morris, called the decision “dangerous and misguided” at the time and said Assange’s lawyers intended to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Speaking after today’s decision, Ms Morris said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London: “What happened in court today is precisely what we wanted to happen… the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal.”
She added: “Julian continues to suffer – for almost three years, he’s been in Belmarsh prison, and he is suffering profoundly day after day, week after week, year after year.
“Julian has to be freed and we hope that this will soon end.
“But we are far from achieving justice in this case because Julian has been incarcerated for so long and he should not have spent a single day in prison.”
Ms Morris continued: “Our fight goes on. We will fight this until Julian is free.”
If he had not won the right to seek an appeal, Assange’s case would have gone directly to Home Secretary Priti Patel for a final decision on whether he should be sent to the US.
But his legal team has secured the right to seek appeal at the Supreme Court based on a point of law that is of “general public importance”.
Case raises ‘serious and important’ issues
Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, for Assange, previously said the case raised “serious and important” legal issues, including over a “reliance” on assurances given by the US about the prison conditions he would face if extradited.
On Monday, two senior judges ruled there was a point of law, but denied him permission for the appeal.
However, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde, said Assange could go to the Supreme Court itself and ask to bring the appeal.
“Whether or not the issue needs ventilation in that court is a matter appropriately for its decision,” Lord Burnett said.
Lord Burnett asked the Supreme Court to “take steps to expedite consideration” of any application for an appeal.
Assange’s lawyers now have 14 days to make the application to the Supreme Court.
In her January 2021 ruling blocking the extradition, then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser found in favour of the US on all issues except Assange’s mental health.
Assange has previously indicated that he wants to challenge the original judge’s other findings at a later date.
Overturning the block on the extradition in December last year, the senior judges found that the judge who originally stopped the extradition had based her decision on the risk of Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.
However, the US authorities later gave assurances that Assange would not face those strictest measures either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.
Lord Burnett previously said that if the original judge had been given those assurances at the time of her ruling, “she would have answered the relevant question differently”.
In Monday’s pronouncement, Lord Burnett said the point of law was about the circumstances in which an appeal court can be given assurances by a country that were not given at the original extradition.
He added that “although the law in this jurisdiction has long been settled it does not appear that the Supreme Court has considered the question.
“Assurances are at the heart of many extradition proceedings”.