Julian Assange still has his supporters, who have been prepared to stand in his corner despite all that has happened recently: his being holed up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy for several years, the claims that he is now a Russian asset, links to the Trump Gang, and suspicions that Wikileaks is no longer acting impartially, none of these have swayed his most ardent backers. But nor is his behaviour swaying the judiciary.
After it was announced last week that Assange was “willing” to face British Justice, this was put to the test yesterday after the warrant for his arrest was upheld by Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Judge Emma Arbuthnot was unimpressed with any of the arguments put forward by his legal team. The conclusion to her judgment was damning.
“The impression I have, and this may well be dispelled if and when Mr Assange finally appears in court, is that he is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice, whether the course of justice is in this jurisdiction or in Sweden. He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favour. As long as the court process is going his way, he is willing to be bailed conditionally but as soon as the Supreme Court rules against him, he no longer wants to participate on the court’s terms but on his terms”. And there was more.
“I have had to consider whether it is proportionate not to withdraw the warrant for his arrest. On the one hand he is a man who had failed to attend court and has thwarted the course of justice but on the other he has been unable to leave a small flat for a number of years and is suffering physically and mentally as a result”. Her conclusion?
“Having weighed up the factors for and against and considered Mr Summers’ arguments I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years. Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do so too”.
She added “It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed”. It was a straightforward matter: Assange had jumped bail, and although the case in Sweden for which he was facing extradition has now been dropped, he remains a bail jumper, and for that, there are consequences, for which the court was unwilling to make an exception. For effectively being on the run for several years, he faces criminal sanction.
Judge Arbuthnot was unwilling to make an exception in Assange’s case, and for good reason: law in this country works on precedent as much as anything else, and if the precedent of a get-out clause were to become established, then who else might wish to take advantage of it? You break the law, there are consequences in any ordered society.
If Julian Assange is indeed unwell, he has one course of action available to him, and that is to pack his belongings, and leave the Ecuadorian embassy. And to show his good faith, go straight to the nearest Police station and hand himself in.
There is no obvious and sensible alternative available to him. End of story.