[Update - 11:10 am ET] Court has adjourned for the day. Second day will begin tomorrow at 5 am EST (if you want to watch it). Sweden will be making their case against the appeal (today Assange’s legal team presented arguments for the appeal).

Montgomery for Sweden basically was arguing that the “definition” of “judicial authority” in the framework for issuing warrants was one that would encompass what all countries on the European continent consider to be “judicial authorities.” She defended the police’s ability to issue a warrant. While Rose challenged the independence of the prosecutor, who issued the warrant, Montgomery pushed back and, in fact, was interrupted multiple times by UK Lords, who appeared to dispute what she was trying to explain.

[Update - 10:45 am ET] Clare Montgomery QC is now giving a response to Rose’s arguments for appeal. She represents Sweden.

[Update - 10:38 am ET] Assange’s lawyer Dinah Rose QC has concluded her arguments before the Court. In the past half hour, this is the key point established: Swedish court determined a domestic detention order was appropriate, but didn’t consider the European arrest warrant in the case.

(By the way, Twitter consensus seems to be that Rose did an outstanding job. A few are suggesting Assange could be in a much better position if he had been represented by Rose from the beginning. Based on recent news that his former lawyers are suing him for legal fees, I agree.)

[Update - 10:15 am ET] Journalist John Pilger robustly defends Julian Assange in this op-ed for the New Statesman. This is what is at stake:

The consequences, if he loses, lie not in Sweden but in the shadows cast by America’s descent into totalitarianism. In Sweden, he is at risk of being “temporarily surrendered” to the US, where his life has been threatened and he is accused of “aiding the enemy” with Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of leaking evidence of US war crimes to WikiLeaks.

The connections between Manning and Assange have been concocted by a secret grand jury in Virginia that allowed no defence counsel or witnesses, and by a system of plea-bargaining that ensures a 90 per cent conviction rate. It is reminiscent of a Soviet show trial.

Pilger’s analysis of what is at stake also could be an explanation for why the semantic arguments being made by Assange’s lawyers are so important.

[Update - 9:50 am ET] The European arrest warrant (EAW) system has been the focus of the hearing. The hearing opened with Dinah Rose QC of Assange’s legal team arguing, according to Alexi Mostrous, that European arrest warrants are “built on trust and a streamlining of such proceedings is to be balanced by protection of rights.” She went over European extradition law going all the way back to 1957. She cited a case before the European Court of Human Rights on whether a Swedish public prosecutor is “proper judicial authority.” And said that High Court judges nor Swedes have produced a definition of “judicial authority.”

Rose called the lower court’s ruling “inconsistent” with “judicial authority” and said it was obvious such authority must be independent of the executive and other parties.

Paul Sonne noted this is the case that Assange’s lawyers were citing when making their argument in court.

You can catch up on all the details from the hearing thus far by going through messages with the hashtag #jasup.

The central question is this: whether the Swedish prosecutor that issued the arrest warrant is independent.

Original Post

Screen shot of Sky News' feed of Assange extradition appeal hearing

The first day of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s appeal hearing in the British Supreme Court has been unfolding for hours now. The hearing started at 10:00 am GMT (which is 5:00 am EST).

The hearing is being broadcast live by Sky News, which makes this stage of Assange’s case significant. Here is the first time the world can tune in and begin to understand the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system, which Assange’s lawyers are challenging. Specifically, they are appealing the extradition by appealing the “judicial authority” that issued the warrant.

Here are the “facts” in the case (via the Supreme Court website):

The Appellant, a journalist well known through his operation of Wikileaks, visited Sweden to give a lecture in August 2010. He had sexual relations with two women. Both women went to the police who treated their visits as the filing of complaints. The Appellant was interviewed by police and subsequently left Sweden in ignorance of the fact that a domestic arrest warrant had been issued for him. Proceedings were brought in the Swedish courts in the Appellant’s absence, although he was represented, in which a domestic warrant for the Appellant’s detention for interrogation was granted and upheld on appeal. Subsequently, an EAW for the Appellant was issued by the Swedish Prosecution Authority that set out allegations of four offences of unlawful coercion and sexual misconduct including rape. The EAW was certified by the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency under the Extradition Act 2003. The Appellant surrendered himself for arrest in the UK and, following an extradition hearing, his extradition to Sweden was ordered. The order was upheld on appeal to the Divisional Court.

[*Note: Supreme Court considers Assange a "journalist."]

Geoffrey Robertson, who served as president of the UN’s war crimes court in Sierra Leone, explained the central focus of the hearing today: judicial authority.

The principle is simple, at least in Anglo-American law. Judges must, as their defining quality, be independent of government. Police and prosecutors employed and promoted by the state obviously cannot be perceived as impartial if they are permitted to decide issues on the liberty of individuals. They are expected to be zealous in working up evidence against a suspect, so they are the last people who can be trusted to weigh up impartially the evidence they themselves have drummed up. That is a matter for a court.

So how comes it that in Sweden and 11 other continental countries, prosecutors and even policemen are allowed to issue a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which has the draconian effect of requiring the arrest of people in another country and dragging them off for trial in the state that has issued the warrant?

For more background on the hearing, I encourage you to visit Justice4Assange.com.

Now, here is the stream of the hearing from Sky News. The hearing will run for the next few hours until 4:00 pm GMT (11:00 am ET). This is the first day of a two-day hearing.

Assange is represented by Dinah Rose QC and Gareth Peirce, who happens to be a pretty well-known human rights lawyer. Clare Montgomery QC is making arguments for Sweden.

The appeal hearing is an opportunity to wade into British justice and, more specifically, European extradition law and this issue of “judicial authority.” It may not be as sensational as the release of classified information but this shows what kind of legal cobwebs Julian Assange has to untangle in order to beat extradition to Sweden and get out of house arrest, which he has been under for 420 days.

I wrote about the basic issues surrounding the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system back in July of last year. Here is that post.