Peters & Peters

Will Assange die in a US prison? – Nick Vamos and Anna Bradshaw in the news

Yesterday, the legal team of Julian Assange was back in court in a bid to stop the extradition of the Wikileaks founder to the US.

The two-day hearing in the High Court will consider whether Mr Assange can be granted leave to appeal against the 2022 extradition decision made by then Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Many commentators have pitted the appeal as being Mr Assange’s last chance to stop his extradition, and his supporters have also claimed that, should he be extradited to the US, he could face a jail term of 175 years and he would die in prison.

Nick Vamos, who was the former Head of Extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service, was interviewed extensively in the media about the latest round of this judicial saga, including on LBC, BBC News, CNN, the Washington Post, Times Radio, and A Lawyer Writes.

Anna Bradshaw also appeared on BBC News, explaining how this latest court application has come about and what happens next potentially.

Several legal routes

The Wikileaks founder is now facing several potential legal scenarios.

Anna told the BBC that this is “a highly unusual application, in the sense that it is truly exhausting the appeal mechanisms under the Extradition Act”.

Both Nick and Anna explained that if Mr Assange is denied leave to appeal, then that would be the end the line as far as the UK is concerned. His only option then would be to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which the UK is still a signatory to.

Nick said:

“Mr Assange’s only option for preventing being put on a flight to the US would be to apply for ‘Rule 39 interim relief’ to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is an order to the UK not to extradite him while it considers his case.”

However, the threshold for Rule 39 relief is very high, namely that there is “an imminent risk of irreparable damage” to his human rights – an argument already rejected by the London High Court. “The Strasbourg Court won’t grant relief just because it thinks Mr Assange has an arguable case,” Nick said. It will therefore be very hard to persuade the court to grant Rule 39 relief.

Anna added:

“These types of applications to the ECtHR are very rarely successful. The last figures I looked, less than 12% are granted.”


However, should Mr Assange be given leave to appeal, then any potential extradition would again be put off for a substantive hearing in a month or so.

The High Court judges are unlikely to give their decision at the end of the hearing and will almost certainly reserve judgment for later, potentially several weeks or even months. As Nick told CNN, the judges would “be mindful that lots of people are paying attention” to the case and would likely take some time to consider the arguments.

What happens if he were extradited to the US?

Much has been written or said about “exorbitant US sentences” and of Mr Assange dying in prison should he be sent to the US.

However, on LBC, Nick dismissed those claims as “nonsense”, pointing out US authorities have already given a diplomatic undertaking to the UK court and government that should Mr Assange be convicted, he will be granted an immediate transfer to Australia to serve his sentence.


“Given the diplomatic support that the Australians have been giving Mr Assange recently, I think he will be freed the minute his plane hits the tarmac in Australia. The authorities will commute his sentence, which they are allowed to do under the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced persons, and he won’t serve a day in prison. So, this idea that he’s going to die in a US prison is complete nonsense”.