Julian Assange, David Hicks and Whether Citizens Have Rights to Diplomatic Protection



This article examines insufficiently explored questions about whether a citizen has the right to seek diplomatic protection from the Australian government and to have that application determined lawfully. It does so primarily by considering the possible precedent set more than a decade go by the David Hicks case and whether Julian Assange may have been unlawfully denied diplomatic protection.

Australian governments have declined to intervene with the British and United States authorities to protect Assange, an Australian citizen, from being extradited to the United States on charges under the Espionage Act 1917 (US). This is despite evidence that his human rights are being violated. In particular, two United Nations bodies have ruled his detention to be arbitrary and amounting to psychological torture. Moreover, there appear to be defects in the legal proceedings, including violations of lawyer-client confidentiality.

These facts could bring Assange’s case within the precedent set by the Hicks case, which decided that the government had a duty to consider an application by an Australian detained in the US military facility at Guatanamo Bay for diplomatic intervention if his human rights were being violated ‘clearly’, and to consider that application lawfully, that is, without irrelevant considerations or improper purpose.

Author Biography

Michael Head, Western Sydney University

Professor of Law



A Articles/Books/Reports

Assange, J. et al. (2015). The WikiLeaks Files. Verso

Baker, N. ‘The WikiLeaks editor-in-chief wants Scott Morrison to help bring Julian Assange home’, SBS News, 3 December 2019) <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-wikileaks-editor-in-chief-wants-scott-morrison-to-help-bring-julian-assange-home>

Bassiouni, M. (2014). International Extradition: United States Law and Practice. Oxford University Press, 6th ed

Brook, B. ‘Hakeem al-Araibi released as extradition proceedings dropped’, news.com.au, 11 February 2019 <https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/hakeem-alaraibi-set-to-be-released-as-extradition-proceedings-dropped/news-story/6c9c68b07b8f52d5ab39e6f61efae943>

Cogan, J. ‘Australian rallies demand release of David Hicks from Guantánamo Bay’ World Socialist Web Site, 12 December 2006 <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/12/hick-d12.html>

Department of Justice, ‘WikiLeaks Founder Charged in Superseding Indictment’ media release, 24 June 2020 <https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-superseding-indictment>

DFAT, ‘Fact sheet: Arrested or jailed overseas’, smartraveller.gov.au <https://www.smartraveler.gov.au/consular-services/resources/arrested-jailed-overseas-factsheet>

Doherty B. and Remeikis, A. ‘Julian Assange’s extradition fight could turn on reports he was spied on for CIA’, The Guardian, 17 December 2019 <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/dec/17/julian-assanges-extradition-fight-could-turn-on-reports-he-was-spied-on-for-cia>

Fox News, ‘Julian Assange’s arrest draws fierce international reaction’, Fox News Channel, 11 April 2019 <https://www.foxnews.com/world/wikileaks-julian-assange-arrest-international-reaction>

Gordon, J. ‘PM has betrayed me: Assange’ Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 2010 <https://www.smh.com.au/technology/pm-has-betrayed-me-assange-20101204-18ks8.html>

Grenfell, O. ‘Doctors condemn Australian government’s refusal to defend Julian Assange’ World Socialist Web Site, 19 March 2020 <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/19/assa-m19.html>.

International Law Commission, Report of the International Law Commission, UN GAOR, 58th sess, Supp No 10, UN Doc A/61/10 (1 May 2006)

Irujo, J. ‘Three protected witnesses accuse Spanish ex-marine of spying on Julian Assange’, El Pais 21 January 2020

Jackson, S. ‘Scott Morrison responds to Pamela Anderson’s Julian Assange plea’, The Australian <https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/scott-morrison-responds-to-pamela-andersons-julian-assange-plea/news-story/ff122bb5d32842ee9fd630e188945e9d>

John Dugard, ‘Diplomatic Protection and Human Rights: The Draft Articles of the International Law Commission’ [2005] AUYrBkIntLaw 6; (2005) 24 Australian Year Book of International Law 75

Johnson, B. @BorisJohnson (Boris Johnson) (Twitter, 11 April 2019, 10:16PM AEST) <https://twitter.com/borisjohnson/status/1116314059815694336?lang=en>

Kagan, M. ‘When Immigrants Speak: The Precarious Status of Non-Citizen Speech Under the First Amendment’ (2016) 57 Boston College Law Review 1237

Klein, N. ‘David Hicks, Stern Hu, Scott Rush, Jock Palfreeman and the Legal Parameters of Australia’s Protection of Its Citizens Abroad’ (2011) 35(1) Melbourne University Law Review 134

Lauria, J. ‘Julian Assange Wins 2020 Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award’ Consortium News, 10 February 2020 <https://consortiumnews.com/2020/02/10/julian-assange-wins-2020-gary-webb-freedom-of-the-press-award/>

Mason, A., Lindell, G. ‘Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks by Leah Sales’ (2008) 9(2) Melbourne Journal of International Law 515

McCormack, T. ‘David Hicks and the Charade of Guantanamo Bay’ (2007) 8 (2) Melbourne Journal of International Law 273

McCulloch, D. ‘Consular officials watching Assange trial’, Australian Associated Press, 5 March 2020 <https://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/6663733/consular-officials-watching-assange-trial/?cs=9397>

McEvoy, J. ‘Almost 200 medical doctors say Julian Assange’s health is at increased risk from coronavirus’ The Canary, 18 March 2020 <https://www.thecanary.co/global/world-news/2020/03/18/almost-200-medical-doctors-say-julian-assanges-health-is-at-increased-risk-from-coronavirus/>

Melzer, N. Report to the Seventy-fourth session of the UN General Assembly, 14 October 2019 <https://peds-ansichten.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/FinalSRTStatementGA14Oct-2019.pdf>

Murray, C. ‘Assange Show Trial: Your Man in the Public Gallery – The Assange Hearing Day 3 & 4’, Information Clearing House, 27 February 2020 <http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/53049.htm>

Nebehay, S. ‘U.N. rights experts cite concern at ‘disproportionate’ Assange detention’, Reuters, 3 May 2019 <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-wikileaks-assange-un/u-n-rights-experts-cite-concern-at-disproportionate-assange-detention-idUSKCN1S90XR>

News.com.au, ‘Julian Assange bids to sue Julia Gillard for defamation over WikiLeaks comments,’ news.com.au, 8 October 2012 <https://www.news.com.au/national/assange-bids-to-sue-gillard-for-defamation/news-story/132a6b415fd8bbd71bc1265577f87fb3>

Nine News, ‘Assange “denied access” to lawyers in UK’, 16 January 2020 <https://www.9news.com.au/world/assange-denied-access-to-lawyers-in-uk/39382389-facc-40e3-92ab-03dd3d575427>

Pillai, S. ‘The rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship: A legislative analysis’ (2014) 37 Melbourne University Law Review 736

Reporters Without Borders, ‘UK: Legal arguments during the first week of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing highlight lack of US evidence,’ Reporters Without Borders, 28 February 2020 <https://rsf.org/en/news/uk-legal-arguments-during-first-week-julian-assanges-extradition-hearing-highlight-lack-us-evidence>

Reuters, ‘Out of the embassy, straight into custody: Assange’s court hearing’, Reuters, 11 April 2019 <https://fr.reuters.com/article/uk-ecuador-assange-court-idUKKCN1RN2JB>

Rosenberg, M. ‘Mike Pompeo, Once a WikiLeaks Fan, Attacks It as Hostile Agent’, New York Times, 13 April 2017 <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/us/politics/mike-pompeo-cia-wikileaks.html>

Samuels, D. ‘The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange’, The Atlantic, 3 December 2010 <https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/the-shameful-attacks-on-julian-assange/67440/>

Savage, C. ‘Assange Indicted Under Espionage Act, Raising First Amendment Issues’, New York Times, 23 May 2019 <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/23/us/politics/assange-indictment.html>

SBS News, ‘Julian Assange may not be able to use First Amendment press protection if extradited’, 24 January 2020 <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/julian-assange-may-not-be-able-to-use-first-amendment-press-protection-if-extradited>

SBS News, ‘PM says no special treatment for Assange as his legal team vows to fight extradition’, SBS News, 11 April 2019

Scripps T. and Tiernan, L. ‘Judge rules Assange cannot sit with lawyers during extradition hearing’, World Socialist Web Site, 28 February 2020 <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/02/28/assa-f28.html>

Scripps, T. and Tiernan, L. ‘Persecuted journalist Assange handcuffed, stripped naked on first day of extradition trial’, World Socialist Web Site, 26 February 2020 <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/02/26/assa-f26.html>

Stone, G. (2005) Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime. Norton Stone

The Guardian, ‘Julian Assange to remain in jail pending extradition to US’, The Guardian, 14 September 2019


Tillman, Z. ‘The New Charges Against Julian Assange Are Unprecedented. Press Freedom Groups Say They’re A Threat to All Journalists’, BuzzFeed News, 23 May 2019

UK, A Review of the United Kingdom’s Extradition Arrangements. Report, 30 September 2011 <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/117673/extradition-review.pdf>

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘UN Experts Urge UK to Honour Rights Obligations and Let Mr. Julian Assange Leave Ecuador Embassy in London Freely’ <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24042>

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘UN Expert On Torture Sounds Alarm Again That Julian Assange’s Life May be at Risk’ <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25249&LangID=E>

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘UN expert says ‘collective persecution’ of Julian Assange must end now’ <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24665&LangID=E>

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘United Kingdom: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Expresses Concern About Assange Proceedings’ <https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24552&LangID=E>

Welch, D. ‘Government considered Assange treason charge’ Sydney Morning Herald, March 12, 2011 <https://www.smh.com.au/technology/government-considered-assange-treason-charge-20110311-1br8n.html>

Welch, D., Dredge, S. and Blumer, C. ‘Julian Assange and his Australian lawyers were secretly recorded in Ecuador’s London embassy’, ABC Investigations <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-23/surveillance-of-julian-assange-captured-lawyers-conversations/11985872>

World Socialist Web Site, ‘An open letter from doctors: Julian Assange “could die in prison”’, World Socialist Web Site, 24 November 2019 <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/11/25/open-n25.html>

B Cases

Abbasi v Secretary of State [2002] EWCA Civ 1598

Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223

Attorney-General (UK) v Heinemann Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd (1988) 165 CLR 30

Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 148 (1945)

CNY17 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2019] HCA 50

Coco v R (1994) 179 CLR 427

Eain v. Wilkes, 641 F.2d 504, 512 (7th Cir. 1981)

Escobedo v. United States, 623 F.2d 1098, 1104 (5th Cir. 1980)

Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Futuris Corporation Ltd [2008] HCA 32; 237 CLR 146

Gwandalan Summerland Point Action Group Inc v Minister for Planning (2009) 75 NSWLR 269

Habib v Commonwealth (2010) 183 FCR 62

Hicks v Ruddock (2007) 156 FCR 574

Hot Holdings v Creasy (2002) 210 CLR 438

Isbester v Knox City Council (2015) 255 CLR 135

Kostotas v. Roche, 931 F.2d 169, 171 (1st Cir. 1991)

Lewis, Patrick Taylor and Anthony McLeod, Christopher Brown, Desmond Taylor and Steve Shaw v The Attorney General of Jamaica and Another (Jamaica) [2000] UKPC 35

Meza v. United States Attorney General, 693 F.3d 1350, 1359 (11th Cir. 2012)

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs v Peko-Wallsend (1986) 162 CLR 24

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZVFW [2018] HCA 30

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v Li (2013) 249 CLR 332

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs v Jia Legeng (2001) 205 CLR 507

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council v Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1995) 59 FCR 369

New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

Nezirovic v. Holt, 779 F.3d 233, 240 (4th Cir. 2015)

Oppenheimer v Cattermole [1976] AC 249

Ornelas v. Ruiz, 161 U.S. 689, 692 (1896)

Parramatta City Council v Pestell (1972) 128 CLR 305

Petrotimor Companhia de Petroleos SARL v Commonwealth (2003) 126 FCR 3

Potter v Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd (1906) 3 CLR 479

R & R Fazzolari Pty Limited v Parramatta City Council (2009) 237 CLR 603

R v Mullen [2000] QB 520

R v Toohey (Aboriginal Land Commissioner); Ex parte Northern Land Council (1981) 151 CLR 170

Re Habib and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2007] AATA 1908

Re Sunshine Coast Broadcasters Limited v the Honourable Peter Duncan; Minister of Land Transport and Infrastructure Support and the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal [1988] FCA 235

Sean Investments v MacKellar (1981) 38 ALR 363

Sindona v. Grant, 619 F.2d 167, 173 (2d Cir. 1980)

Thomas and Haniff Hilaire v Cipriani Baptiste (Trinidad and Tobago) [1999] UKPC 13

Thompson v Randwick Municipal Council (1950) 81 CLR 87

Tji, Lay Kon v Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs [1998] FCA 1380; 158 ALR 681

Vo v. Benov, 447 F.3d 1235, 1241 (9th Cir. 2006)

Watson v Marshall (1971) CLR 621

C Legislation

Crimes (Torture) Act 1988 (Cth)

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)

Espionage Act 1917 (US)

Extradition Act 2003 (UK)

Geneva Conventions Act 1957 (Cth)

Human Rights Act 1998 (UK)

D Treaties

Extradition Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the United States of America with Exchange of Notes, Treaty Series No. 13 (2007) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/243246/7146.pdf>.

E Other

The Draft Articles of the International Law Commission on Diplomatic Protection <https://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/commentaries/9_8_2006.pdf

Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-fourth session, 30 November-4 December 2015, Opinion №54/2015 concerning Julian Assange (Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)<https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17012&LangID=E>

Torture Convention of 1984

Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949