LONDON (AFP) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was on Monday given permission to appeal a decision to extradite him to the United States where he could face a lifetime in prison.
Washington wants to put the 50-year-old Australian on trial in connection with the publication of 500,000 secret military files relating to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The High Court in London in December overturned a lower court’s ruling not to send him to the United States on the grounds he would be a suicide risk.
But lawyers for Assange then challenged the decision, arguing that the country’s highest court should rule on “points of law of general public importance”.
“The respondent’s application to certify a point of law is granted,” said judges Ian Burnett and Timothy Holroyde in a written ruling.
The judges stated that they themselves were not granting him a right of appeal at the Supreme Court but Assange had the right to do so himself.
It is now for the Supreme Court to decide whether to take the case.
Assange’s fiancee and the mother of his two young children, Stella Moris, emerged from the court smiling and visibly relieved.
“What happened in court today is precisely what we wanted to happen,” she said.
“The situation now is that the Supreme Court has to decide whether it will hear the appeal. But make no mistake, we won today in court.
“If there were justice, the crimes that Julian exposed –- war crimes, the killing of innocent civilians -– would not be impugned.
“Our fight goes on. We will fight this until Julian’s free.”
Crowds gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London and welcomed the decision.
“I’m relieved beyond words,” said Sue Barnett, 61, from Nottingham, central England, holding a placard stating: “10 years enough. Free Assange now. “
Assange could be jailed for up to 175 years in the United States, although the exact sentence is difficult to estimate.
WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson hailed Monday’s ruling as a “partial victory”, calling the U.S. charges against Assange were “a blatant terrorist attack on press freedom worldwide.”