Friday, 17 August 2012

Assange to Exit Inside Diplomatic Bag?

Julian Assange has just been granted political asylum by Ecuador. The British Government says it has a legal duty to extradite him to Sweden to face trial there and that to carry out this duty it will if necessary arrest him in what is currently the Ecuadorian Embassy building. Ecuador says it supports Assange’s case that there is a further agenda to send him from Sweden to USA to face interrogation and possible charges over Wiki leaks.

The Guardian today has suggested 4 ways that he can get out of the country and rightly sees legal and practical problems with all of them. They range from Ecuador giving him diplomatic status (which could be challenged as it would not be regarded as genuine) to smuggling him in a diplomatic bag (which has been done before by a Nigerian apparently, but was wrongly labelled so he was caught – anyway, scanners would pick up a body at the airport and so the game would be up there).

A political minefield of course, but what is the legal position? Can the British Government make an arrest on embassy premises here?

There has been much talk about the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.

This Act came about as a consequence of the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan Embassy. It provides in section 1 that the Secretary of State can withdraw consent for premises to be used as an embassy (and therefore the police could enter under their normal powers) but only where it is permissible under international law and taking into account all considerations. The considerations listed would not themselves seem to be applicable in the Assange case as the safety of the public is not currently at risk nor is national security (remember the Act was a response to very different and tragic circumstances). However these considerations are expressly stated to be non-exhaustive, so in theory the Act could be used but would such use not set a dangerous precedent, namely that other embassies, including British ones, could also be ‘defrocked’ in the same way throughout the world, causing possible major diplomatic tensions?

It was wittily stated on Radio 2 this morning that Assange might eventually leave himself as he will get fed up with takeaways. Otherwise, the police will probably just sit and wait it out.

This picture of Julian Assange is by Valeriy Osipov

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