UK court rejects initial bid by Julian Assange to have arrest warrant lifted

Mr Assange said "the hearing is still happening", noting that the court was due to rule on other points

UK court rejects initial bid by Julian Assange to have arrest warrant lifted

Julian Assange. Picture by: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 18.00

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost his initial bid to have his UK arrest warrant dropped - but could still have it cancelled at another court hearing next week.

He challenged the warrant because police in Sweden no longer want him extradited for questioning over rape allegations.

However, a judge at Westminster Magistrates Court said it remains valid because he skipped bail in June 2012 - when he first took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot said in her judgement: "Many authorities underline the importance of a defendant attending court when bailed to do so and they describe the way that the administration of justice can be undermined by defendants who fail to attend.

"Having considered the arguments set out above (and by agreement at this stage not having considered the public interest arguments [...]) I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn."

While the judge refused to cancel the warrant outright, she agreed to consider whether it is in the "public interest" to maintain it.

That ruling will be made on 13 February.

Mr Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, told the court that Assange had health problems, including depression, and that his years inside the embassy were more than adequate punishment for his bail offence.

Another of his legal representatives, Jennifer Robinson, later told reporters that Assange would face the court if he received "an assurance that he will not be extradited to the United States to face prosecution".

The UK government has not confirmed whether an extradition request exists.

Facing arrest

Mr Assange faces arrest if he leaves the embassy, where he has been holed up for five and a half years.

After the initial judgement this afternoon, Mr Assange insisted that media reports he had lost the appeal were "fake news" and said the hearing was still going on, with three other points yet to be decided.

After the adjournment, he published a full statement from his legal team, highlighting fears that the WikiLeaks founder could be extradited to the US.

Mr Assange has always denied the sexual assault allegations against him, and Swedish prosecutors dropped the case last year saying all possible leads had been "exhausted".

However, Metropolitan Police in London said Mr Assange will still be arrested - for failing to surrender to a court - if he leaves the embassy.

The British Foreign Office last month rejected Ecuador's request to grant diplomatic status to Assange, which would have given him immunity from arrest.

The country has already given him citizenship.

Assange sought asylum in the embassy because he fears he will eventually be extradited to the US and prosecuted over WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of secret military documents in 2010.

The site gained mainstream prominence after its release of masses of confidential information on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.