The body promoting the rule of law on behalf of the worldwide legal profession has defended its decision to feature an appearance by Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of Wikileaks, at its flagship annual event. 

Assange, currently the subject of a UK arrest warrant for failure to surrender to bail, is due to speak to the annual conference of the International Bar Association (IBA) in Sydney, Australia, next month. He will appear by video link with the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has lived after being granted asylum in 2012.

Assange is lined up as a guest for the conference's popular 'in conversation' slot, along with Australian former prime minister John Howard and former US secretary of defense Robert Gates. However, Law Society council member and former secretary general of the European council of bar associations (CCBE) Jonathan Goldsmith has questioned whether Assange's appearance is appropriate. 

Writing in the Gazette, Goldsmith reminds the IBA of its commitment to upholding the rule of law. 'The IBA should not be saying that it is OK for some to ignore the rule of law and not others.'

Last year, UK judges withdrew from the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference in Glasgow after Assange was booked to speak by video link. The judicial office said at the time: 'Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice, and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him.'

It is not clear whether any members of the judiciary have withdrawn from the IBA conference. Mark Ellis, the IBA’s executive director, said: 'Each year at the International Bar Association’s Annual Conference, a series of ‘conversations with…’ are held with individuals notable on the world stage. They offer unique insight on an array of legal issues that can often be controversial but remain of great interest to the association’s diverse membership and of importance to debate.'