Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has raised some tricky legal questions.

The case hinges on the Vienna Convention 1961, which means the embassy of the country is an island of that nation's sovereignty within a foreign territory. So British police have no authority over Julian Assange while he remains in the embassy.

Britain has a legal duty to extradite Julian Assange, and there is a legal loophole which means the UK could enter the embassy and remove him.

And there is also a legal route for Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, but it could be a bit cramped for the Australian anti-privacy campaigner.

Here is The Huffington Post UK's guide to the law and Julian Assange.


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A decoy? The law makes it very difficult for Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy

Q. Now that he has been granted asylum, what has changed?

A. From the UK authorities' point of view, very little. The Foreign Office said that the legal duty to extradite Assange to Sweden remains and will be unaffected by the Quito government's decision. The Metropolitan Police said Assange was also in breach of his bail conditions. This means that if he sets foot outside the embassy he is liable to be arrested.

Q. But if he remains inside the embassy, isn't Assange protected from the authorities under international law?

A. It is not quite as straightforward as that. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.

But the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 permits the revocation of the special status of a building if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".

The Government has made clear to the authorities in Quito that the current situation is "not sustainable" and "incompatible" with the Vienna Convention. This means that potentially Assange could be arrested even if he remained inside the mission.

Q. What does this mean for the UK's relationship with Ecuador?

A. A senior British envoy in Quito has warned the authorities that there would be "serious implications for our diplomatic relations" if the Assange situation continued.

This could mean a downgrading of relations or the expulsion of diplomats. Ecuador has accused the UK of making a threat to "attack" its embassy in London to get to Mr Assange.

Such a move would be seen as a "hostile and intolerable act", foreign minister Ricardo Patino said.

Q. What could Ecuador do to ensure Assange leaves the Embassy and travels to Ecuador?

Pretty much nothing. But article 27 of the Vienna Convention provides for a "diplomatic bag" used for carrying official documents to the home government.

As long as it is externally marked to show its status, no size is specified, and it can be carried by a diplomatic courier, also immune.

Some countries have attempted to use this to smuggle people. In 1984, a former Nigerian minister was placed in a shipping crate in the UK, in an attempt to smuggle him back to Nigeria for trial, but the crate was not correctly marked, so was stopped by British customs.

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