By RAPHAEL SATTER
2012-02-01 06:58 PM
The two-day hearing is Assange's last chance to persuade British judges to quash efforts to send him to Scandinavia, where he is wanted on sex crimes allegations.
The case hinges on a single technical point: whether Sweden's public prosecutor can properly issue a warrant for Assange's arrest.
In Britain as in the United States, generally only judges can issue arrest warrants, and British courts only honor warrants issued by what they describe as judicial authorities.
Lawyers for Sweden argue that, in Sweden as in other European countries, prosecutors play a judicial or semi-judicial role.
Assange lawyer Dinah Rose rejected that argument Wednesday, telling the seven justices gathered in Britain's highest court that a prosecutor "does not, and indeed cannot as a matter of principle, exercise judicial authority."
She said that wasn't just a parochial British view, but rather a "fundamental principle" which stretches back 1,500 years to the Codex Justinius, the famous Byzantine legal code.
"No one may be a judge in their own case," Rose said.
Just over a dozen sympathizers came to support Assange, a 40-year-old Australian, outside the Supreme Court building Wednesday.
"We're here to show solidarity and hold a vigil for Julian Assange," said Andrew Russell, 31. "He was able to show the world, open that window for a brief time into what's really going on. I see him as a journalist who should be rewarded for that courageous work, rather than hounded."
The U.K. justices, who have dispensed with formal court attire in favor of business suits, will hear lawyers for the prosecution on Thursday. Their decision isn't expected for several weeks.