District Judge Vanessa Baraitser today handed down her decision in the USA v Assange extradition case.
The Americans were attempting to have Julian Assange shipped to the USA to face espionage charges for his role in the release of the Wikileaks cables. Press freedom advocates argued that to prosecute Assange would be a violation of his free speech rights (Padraig Reidy wrote a good summary last year).
Today, district judge Baraitser ultimately denied the extradition application, and human rights advocates are celebrating the judgment.
However, Assange did not prevail on Article 10 grounds. The judgment dismissed the arguments made in favour of free speech. Instead, the judge ruled in his favour only because she found that the USA’s prison system would have exacerbated Assange’s mental health issues.
From a free speech point of view, this is extremely frustrating. It sets no kind of press freedom precedent, meaning that journalists in the U.K. (and those who seek the protection of our courts) still cannot rely on our legal system to protect them, when they publish state secrets in the public interest.
The USA have indicated that they will appeal this decision, so Assange is not yet entirely free. We shall see whether the High Court agrees with the district judge.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner suggests to me that, when the USA appeals the decision in the High Court, Julian Assange’s legal team will ‘cross appeal’ on the free speech issues. So this case may well yield a wider precedent that other investigative journalists and whistleblowers can rely on in the future.