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Sweden's Lay Judges: Their Criminal Records (1)

Yet another scandal in the duckpond. Unexpected journalism by Aftonbladet. Part one.


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DUCKPOND (Rixstep) — Sweden's bizarre 'Big Brother' system of lay judges has already sparked quite the controversy. The very idea that trial by jury does not even exist, that people are politically appointed to sit in judgement on court cases and yet have no formal training in the law - where 63% of them can't answer basic questions accurately, where statistically half of them think it's OK to use their political views to influence verdicts, where a shocking number think it's OK to convict without a shred of evidence, and where none of them seemingly even understand what 'evidence' is - most people would say it's already bad enough.

But it gets worse. As journalists at Sweden's tabloid Aftonbladet discovered, many of these lay judges, sitting in judgement on members of the Swedish citizenry, have criminal records of their own.

And what's worse still: the Swedish judicial system lacks a mechanism for checking such things.

And what's worse still: many of the 'real' judges questioned by Aftonbladet say they don't even care.

Background

The Swedish judicial system is strange to say the least. There is no trial by jury. There is no bail system. 'Suspects' are held for months or years as prosecutors and police go through materials, without even being forced to specify what they're looking for.

Compare with the British system where charges are formalised immediately, where suspects are not held for months or years on end, where there is a bail system, and where prosecutors can't change the charges midstream.

One of those two systems strikes the observer as fair, the other as being from another planet. A strange planet with a draconian judicial system.

Swedes have three judicial instances - many would say 'four'. The district courts are at the bottom, followed by the appeals courts, followed by the supreme court, and followed at times by the supreme administrative court. Of course there is also the European Court of Human Rights, if one ever gets that far.

The district courts - the first instance - have a 'bench' of four 'judges' and one court clerk. Only two of those five have any formal training in the law: the court clerk and one of the judges. The rest of them are political appointees.

So how are political appointees appointed politically? They're chosen by city councils from the political rank and file. The parties get to pick a number of judges proportional to their representation on the city council.

These 'appointees' have no formal training in the law. They might not even understand cornerstone judicial concepts. No one asks, no one cares.

Three lay judges are appointed to each district court. So the makeup of a district court bench is as follows.

  • One court clerk. This is someone with formal training in the law. But the court clerk doesn't get to rule on trial verdicts.
  • Three lay judges with no judicial background or formal training whatsoever. They all get to vote.
  • One trained judge. This 'real judge' gets to vote - once.

There can be 'ties' in this system as the number of voting judges is even. The 'real' judge can then decide the verdict. In all other cases it's strictly by numbers - if the 'real' judge understands the trial is a travesty but the three lay judges don't agree, they win out. Despite their not knowing how the law really works.

One: Background | Two: The Splash | Three: The Crimes | Four: Politicians Who Defy the Law

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