It took a long time but the conclusion was inevitable. Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden, facing allegations of sexual crimes, if the latest attempt by his legal team does not produce a surprise. The U.K. Supreme Court’s decision is the only possible result of the long extradition process in the Assange case. The alternative, to reject the European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish authorities, would have been a sign of distrust towards the Swedish legal system. Such a distrust would have been unreasonable.
Let me be very clear here. Sweden is a Rechtstaat. That doesn’t mean that Swedish legal institutions are infallible. No legal system is perfect. But if we look at the bigger picture, Sweden as a legal system is characterized by respect for justice, and for the rule of law. The Swedish court system is characterized by foreseeability, high quality, fairness and humanism. These are facts. Yet I know already this characterization may cause many readers to shake their heads in disbelief. This description fits poorly with the picture of the Swedish legal system that has dominated the debate since the allegations against Assange became known. On the contrary, the picture of Sweden’s legal system is that of lack of justice and corruption. This discrepancy between facts and image is a problem.
The problem for the state of Sweden is that the image of our legal system, as it has been portrayed by Assange’s team and its supporters, is deeply distorted. It’s a caricature. When influential people – such as filmmaker Michael Moore, feminist Naomi Wolff, journalist John Pilger and many, many others – launches attacks on the Swedish legal system against this caricature rather than facts it affects Sweden’s democratic reputation.
In many parts of the world the impression of Swedish law is today that spread by the Assange’s legal team. It is this side of the story that has dominated in the case so far, as representatives of the Swedish legal system and other Swedish legal experts have failed to provide a more accurate picture.
When I travel to other countries and meet lawyers interested in the Assange case (and they are many), I get asked the most incredible questions about my country’s legal system. Is it true that men are convicted of rape in Sweden on the sole basis of a woman’s allegations? Is it rape in Sweden when a condom breaks? Is it correct that Swedish judges contact the Justice Department before passing judgment in politically sensitive cases? Has the Swedish Prosecutor General had meetings with representatives of the American Embassy before the European Arrest Warrant in the Assange case was issued? Are judges in Swedish courts politically elected? Is it true that official Sweden is impregnated by feminist ideology and that Swedish public servants are taught that women never lie? Will the Swedish police put Assange directly on a plane to Guantanamo if he is sent here?
All of these issues reflect misconceptions about the Swedish legal system. The answer to every question is basically ”no”, even if a couple of the questions contain half-truths. Let me return to these later on. Before that, there is reason to recall what actually happened.
Assange, as a spokesperson for Wikileaks, came to Sweden 2010. Ironically, one of the reasons for the visit was the good reputation of Swedish law; Assange was here to investigate whether Wikileaks could benefit from the unique protection of information under our special constitutional laws of freedom of speech. During his stay in Sweden two events occurred, which led to the accusations against Assange for sexual assault of two women. Before Assange was interrogated, he left the country. He has since then refused to return to Sweden and it has taken almost two years to bring the issue of extradition finally decided by the English courts.
The decision by the Supreme Court means only that Assange will be transferred to Sweden for interrogation. It does not mean that Assange will be tried, or even prosecuted. It is entirely possible that the he is transferred to Sweden, questioned and then released if the Swedish authorities find that there are not sufficient grounds for prosecution. It is today impossible to assess how the case will unfold.
However, what we do know today is that Assange will receive fair treatment by the Swedish judicial system. Its legal institutions respect the rule of law. And yes, this also holds in cases of accusations of sexual offenses, where the Swedish Supreme Court as recently as a few years ago clearly pointed to the same high standard of proof applies in cases of suspected rape as with other crimes.
The other parts of the criticism against the Swedish legal system are largely based on myths and misconceptions. The Swedish criminal law framework with regard to sexual offenses is not different from most others. I will not be sentenced for rape if my condom breaks during a sexual act. However, I can be convicted of rape if I have sex with a sleeping or unconscious person, like in many other countries. The image of a bizarre Swedish criminal law in the area of sexual offences is false.
The Swedish judges who may judge Assange if he is brought to trial will not take orders from any government agencies, and will not be influenced by pressure from elsewhere. (The corruption level in the Swedish judiciary is extremely low.) We do have politically appointed lay persons as judges (similar to jurors) – which I am skeptical against – but they do not act as politicians in their judicial function and studies suggest that their political beliefs do not influence their judgments at all. And – no – Assange will not be placed on a CIA-chartered plane by the Swedish police as soon as he arrives at Stockholm airport Arlanda.
(See for a similar article in Swedish Assange behöver inte vara orolig.)