London: In a major setback, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost his fight in a British court against extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sex offences.
According to Supreme Court president Lord Nicholas Phillips, the seven judges were split five to two but the majority ruling was that the Swedish prosecutor was a judicial authority and therefore allowed to issue an arrest warrant for him to be questioned on sex crime allegations.
Assange`s lawyers had urged the UK`s highest court to block his extradition, saying that a European arrest warrant issued against the WikiLeaks founder was "invalid".
However, the court issued the ruling, saying: "The request for Mr Assange`s extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed.”
The ruling marks a potential turning point in the Internet activist`s controversial career, who has described the attempts for his extradition as politically motivated.
Assange was not present in court when his appeal was quashed.
Reacting to the ruling, Assange said that he was under house arrest for last the 540 days without being charged.
Assange has spent the better part of two years fighting attempts to send him to Sweden, where he is accused of sex crimes stemming from a visit to the country in the summer of 2010.
The 40-year-old Australian, best known for revealing hundreds of thousands of secret US documents, denies any wrongdoing.
The implementation of the judgement has been deferred for two weeks, during which Assange`s lawyers are likely to seek reopening of the extradition case on the ground that the case had been decided on a point of law that was not argued by any side during the hearing.
Assange`s lawyer, Dinah Rose, had sought two weeks to decide whether to ask the Supreme Court to reopen the case, which has surprised legal observers.
Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg told BBC: "This is a very unusual thing. It`s not happened since this court was set up. It happened in the Pinochet case in the House of Lords. Very unusual, and means there`s everything left to play for still".
He added: "(He) can stay in this country for at least two
weeks, while they consider making this unprecedented application to reopen the case on the basis that it was decided on a point of law in the Vienna Convention on the Interpretation of Treaties that was simply not argued by either side and which the court gave no notice to either the Crown Prosecution Service, representing the Swedish authorities, or Mr Assange`s lawyers, that they were considering taking into account".
Announcing the decision during a televised hearing, Phillips said the point of law which had to be considered had not been simple to resolve.
A press release on the judgement said: "The issue is whether an European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by a public prosecutor is a valid Part 1 EAW issued by a `judicial authority` for the purpose and within the meaning of sections 2 and 66 of the Extradition Act 2003?."
It added: "By a majority the court has concluded that the Swedish public prosecutor was a `judicial authority` within the meaning of both the framework decision and the Extradition Act."
"It follows that the request for Mr Assange`s extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed".
Assange can also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which in the past has delayed high-profile extraditions for years.
The European court will have 14 days to decide if it will take on the case.
(With PTI inputs)