LONDON - Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, is free to ask Britain's highest court to decide whether he should be extradited to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, judges ruled Monday.
A lower court said Assange could apply directly to Britain's Supreme Court to hear his controversial case. Assange, 40, has been battling extradition to Stockholm, the Swedish capital, since a judge ruled in February that he should be sent there to face accusations of raping and molesting two women.
Assange said he was "thankful" for Monday's ruling. He and his lawyers have 14 days to file a request for review by the Supreme Court. If it refuses to hear the matter, Assange would be extradited within days of the decision. If it accepts, the case would probably come before the court sometime next spring, the BBC reported.
Assange denies any misconduct and insists that his relations with the women in separate 2010 sexual encounters were consensual. He contends that the allegations against him are politically motivated, a pretext to ship him onward for prosecution in the United States, where the Obama administration has roundly condemned him for leaking thousands of diplomatic documents on his website.
He surrendered to police in London last December after Sweden issued an arrest warrant. He has spent almost the entire time since then under "mansion arrest," living on a supporter's sprawling country estate outside London but forced to wear an electronic tag, abide by a curfew and check in with police daily.
Last month, judges on Britain's High Court upheld the earlier ruling approving Assange's extradition. On Monday, the justices said he would not be allowed to pursue his case any further through the normal appeals process but could apply directly to the Supreme Court for a hearing, on the basis that general principles worthy of the court's scrutiny were at stake.
Those principles deal with which bodies in foreign countries ought to be allowed to request extradition of suspects from Britain.