Julian Assange asks UK court to drop arrest warrant

WikiLeaks founder hopes ruling in his favour would allow him to leave Ecuadorian embassy

The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has asked a UK court to drop the arrest warrant that prevents him from leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for five and a half years.

Assange, 46, skipped bail to enter the embassy in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over an allegation of rape, which he denies.

Though Swedish prosecutors have dropped the investigation against him, Assange will be arrested if he leaves the building in Knightsbridge for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK.

Mark Summers QC told the judge Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster magistrates court on Friday that now that the Swedish case had been dropped the warrant had “lost its purpose and its function”.

He said because Swedish extradition proceedings against Assange had come to an end, so had the life of the arrest warrant.

But representing the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Aaron Watkins said Assange’s argument for having the warrant dropped was “strange and untenable”. He said it was an example of “contorting legislation” in order to get to a desired destination – that of Assange leaving the embassy.

The case against the WikiLeaks founder was “extremely simple”, Watkins said: he had failed to surrender to custody in answer to bail, therefore the warrant still stood.

Watkins told the judge it would be absurd for a defendant to be “rewarded with effective immunity” for having evaded proceedings for long enough.

The judge said she would give her judgment about the arrest warrant on 6 February. Medical arguments will not be considered because Assange is arguing a legal point.

“I’m particularly conscious there are some medical issues referred to in your submission,” the judge told Assange’s lawyers. “I’m aware that he has depression, a frozen shoulder and a terrible tooth.”

Earlier, asked if a ruling in his favour in the court case could enable Assange to walk free, a spokesman for the CPS said: “Hypothetically, yes. That would be our interpretation.”

Before the Westminster hearing, Gareth Peirce, representing Assange, told reporters it was a “simple issue concerning the warrant and its status”.

“Given that proceedings have come to an end, and the kind of warrant it is, the argument has no status because it’s attached to ongoing proceedings,” she said.

In December, Assange was made an Ecuadorian citizen in an attempt to resolve the political impasse over his continued presence in the UK. However, the UK refused to grant him diplomatic status, which would have conferred legal immunity and allowed him to leave the embassy.

“He is seeking to have the warrant of arrest discontinued because the Swedes have confirmed that the extradition warrant is no longer live,” the CPS spokesman said. “He is seeking that therefore the warrant of arrest should be taken out as well.”