Assange fails to make skipped bail arrest warrant vanish
Bad luck, Ecuador. Your cleaners must really want their cupboard back by now
"Mr Assange is not present at court today," said the judge who denied the cupboard-dwelling WikiLeaker's latest bid to make legal proceedings against him go away.
The judgment, handed down this afternoon by the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales, confirmed that the arrest warrant issued in 2012 against Assange for skipping bail is still valid.
A sad handful of protesters had gathered outside Westminster Magistrates' Court in London to demand "safe passage" for Assange.
Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, the Chief Magistrate, said in a short judgment (PDF, five pages) that "it is for the accused to prove he has reasonable cause for his failure to surrender... Mr Assange failed to surrender to custody."
Assange has been hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last five years, having claimed asylum to evade extradition to face rape allegations in Sweden. Though that case eventually timed out in May last year, the unwelcome guest has stayed put because he fears being arrested by British police and handed over to the Americans, who want to prosecute him over his WikiLeaks website.
The WikiLeaks founder had claimed, via barrister Mark Summers QC, that the arrest warrant, issued under section 6 of the Bail Act 1976, ought not to apply to him because it was originally issued to get him into court on the Swedish rape allegations.
"On a straightforward reading of the section, which makes no mention of any underlying proceedings, 1. Mr Assange has been released on bail, 2. He has failed to surrender and 3. If he has no reasonable cause he will be guilty of an offence," ruled the judge. "I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn."
On Twitter, Jules himself ranted away at reports of the court's verdict as "fake news".
Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg, who attended the judgment, remained to hear further legal arguments about Assange's self-imposed exile in the embassy broom cupboard, resulting in this nugget coming to public light:
Assange, reason 4. Spending 5½ years at the embassy is “adequate, if not severe, punishment” for the actions he took. The maximum he would serve if convicted of absconding is six months in prison and he has spent that long at the embassy since extradition warrant was withdrawn.— Joshua Rozenberg (@JoshuaRozenberg) February 6, 2018
Assange's legal team is now arguing that the British state taking action against him for skipping bail is not in the public interest, on which the judge will rule next week.
Ecuador's foreign affairs minister, Maria Fernanda Espinoza, has been trying to get Assange out of the embassy – which included an attempt to obtain diplomatic immunity for Assange. Unfortunately for everyone's favourite leaky Australian, this was rejected by the UK, which has the final call over who gets diplomatic immunity in Blighty. ®