Assange 'very likely' to be extradited to Sweden

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is "very likely" to be extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault, a barrister and expert in UK extradition law has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Law In Action on Tuesday, Julian Knowles of law firm Matrix Chambers predicted that senior district judge Howard Riddle would rule against the Australian when he delivers his verdict on Thursday.

Knowles dismissed preliminary arguments made by Assange's legal team that the case was "politically motivated". Assange's lawyers claimed that Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny had no power to issue the European arrest warrant, and that Assange was wanted only questioning rather than prosecution.

"There is no doubt that a Swedish prosecutor does have the power to issue warrants," said Knowles. "And the Swedish prosecutor has made clear that Mr Assange is wanted for trial if he goes back. Unless he can demonstrate his innocence ahead of trial, he will be tried."

Knowles also poured cold water on a claim made in court by Assange's defence lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, that the accusations against his client did not amount to extradition offences.

In spite of what he calls "a skilful PR campaign", Knowles maintains that allegations "plainly include the use of force" and would "obviously" constitute sexual assault if tried in this country.

Referring to another claim made in court by Robertson - that Assange would not receive a fair trial because in Sweden, some evidence in rape hearings is heard behind closed doors - Knowles was emphatic: "You have to show there would be no meaningful trial at all."

Knowles also slammed claims that Assange might face detention at Guantánamo Bay, or even execution, if extradited on to the US a "hopeless argument".

Amy Jeffress, the US justice department's attaché to the US embassy in London told Law In Action presenter Joshua Rozenberg: "No one is going to Guantánamo Bay, and that claim is baseless."

Jeffress added that it was a requirement of the US extradition treaty with Britain that prosecutors provide assurances that they would not seek the death penalty.

Judge Riddle is set to deliver his ruling on Thursday. Whatever the verdict, it seems unlikely the case will end there. The losing side can - and is expected to - appeal to the High Court.

If the US requests Assange's extradition while the Swedish case is still being contested in the British courts, the decision as to which application to favour would fall to Home Secretary Theresa May.

Speaking on Law In Action, Julian Knowles said he believed May would favour extradition to the US.