How to Extradite Julian Assange to the United States

How to Extradite Julian Assange to the United States

I had a colleague ask an interesting question, “If Julian Assange is indicted and detained in London, would the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty authorize extradition to the United States?” There’s not an easy answer.

The U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty requires “double-criminality”–the offense must be punishable in both States. Not surprisingly, the United Kingdom imposes criminal penalties for disclosing state secrets. Article 5 of the Official Secrets Act of 1989 provides a “person into whose possession the information, document or article has come is guilty of an offence if he discloses it without lawful authority knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that it is protected against disclosure by the foregoing provisions of this Act and that it has come into his possession” as a result of disclosure “by a Crown servant or government contractor without lawful authority.”

Article 4 of the treaty does, however, provide that “extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” According to Black’s Dictionary, political offenses are “crimes directed against the security or government of a nation, such as treason, sedition, espionage, murder during a revolution, etc.” Thus, it may be difficult to extradite Assange for espionage, but easier to extradite him for various computer crimes, such as disclosing trade secrets, engaging in economic espionage, or criminal copyright infringement. If and when Assange unlawfully discloses confidential documents of major banking institutions, this will be an additional grounds for extradition and criminal prosecution.

An additional problem is that Assange is wanted by more than one State. Sweden issued an international arrest warrant on November 20 as a result of allegations that Assange committed sex crimes. Article 15 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty requires that the British government weigh numerous factors in deciding where to extradite, including the gravity of the offenses and the chronological order in which the requests were received. Thus, it is quite possible that Assange would be extradited to Sweden before he would be sent to the United States.

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International Criminal Law, National Security Law, North America
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Jonathan Mitchell QC

With all respect, Black’s Law Dictionary isn’t an authority in any of the UK jurisdictions and the passage quoted is very far from UK law. The matters described, whether espionage, cybercrime, or copyright infringement (!), but excluding of course the Swedish allegations, strike me as being fairly obvious examples of offences which a UK court, whether Scottish Irish or English, would hold to be ‘political’ within Article 4 (1) and not excluded by 4 (2). See R v. Governor of Brixton Prison, ex parte Schtraks [1964] AC 556 and R v. Governor of Pentonville Prison, ex parte Cheng [1973] 1 AC 931. The law, in the asylum context but explaining also the history of the concepts for extradition purposes, was recently restated by the House of Lords in T v SSHD, [1996] A C 742, which you will find on BAILII at .

There are obvious problems also as to double criminality, but these may be more technical.

Dissenting with respect from the author, I think there is an ‘easy answer’ to the question, and it is ‘No’.

Kevin Jon Heller


How, exactly, is Assange guilty of the computer crimes you mention?

Kevin Jon Heller

Thanks, Roger.  Your post seemed to imply that you thought he was already guilty of those crimes; focusing on the planned release makes sense.  Curious, though: would you be satisfied if the UK, applying the doctrine of specialty, limited extradition to the economic offenses?

Kevin Jon Heller

Of course, we don’t yet know whose trade secrets he violated!  Though we will soon.

fiona leach
fiona leach

Response… I work for BBC News in London, editing a weekend current affairs programme (The World this Weekend). I’m also trying to understand on what basis the US might have grounds to extradite Assange. Would you be kind enough to send me an email with you contacts or call me on 011 44 7890 517917. Many thanks. Fiona Leach


Professor Alford,

There is much talk about the potential danger to international relations that Assange has and will continue to cause. But, to what I have seen thus far, it all seems like this abstract, nebulous damage.

Has there yet to be any concrete damage, in terms of human or economic losses?