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Sweden's Lay Judges: Their Criminal Records (2)
Yet another scandal in the duckpond. Unexpected journalism by Aftonbladet. Part two.
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.
√ They're supposed to represent the people in the Swedish judicial system - they're supposed to stand for obedience unto the law, be impartial, set a good example for all.
One: Background | Two: The Splash | Three: The Crimes | Four: Politicians Who Defy the Law
√ Yet 25 (twenty five) convicted lay judges have been able to sit on court benches these past years with no one knowing about it. Until now.
Now that Aftonbladet began investigating, several of them have been dismissed or chosen voluntarily to leave their positions.
'Rule of law must take precedence over privacy and confidentiality', says judge Ralf G Larsson. 'We need a mechanism to check things like this. We need it immediately.'
Aftonbladet rang up convicted lay judge Keya Izol to ask about his criminal record. 'I don't want to talk about it' was his reply. Keya Izol was dismissed from his court last week when his criminal record became known.
There are over 8,000 lay judges in Sweden. According to the country's national court administration, they're supposed to 'set an exceptionally good example in terms of general obedience before the law'.
But no one ever checks up on them.
District court judge in Lund Ralf G Larsson comments.
'Of course this is terrible. I think everyone in a courtroom assumes those who sit in judgement don't have criminal backgrounds like this. This is about rule of law and trust in our judicial system.'
The Stockholm administrative court sacked three lay judges this past week when they found out about their murky past.
'We didn't know anything about these convictions', protested head judge Peter Enander to Aftonbladet. 'But now that we have the information, we've begun investigations of our own. None of the lay judges cited are with us any longer.'
One wonders if perhaps a few verdicts should be reviewed and overturned.
Leif Fast from Hudiksvall was a lay judge for 17 years. He was also convicted of violating bookkeeping law (cooking books).
'I'm not a criminal!' he protested to Aftonbladet. 'But I understood after talking to the magistrate that there'd be a lot of talk. So I feel I neither can nor wish to continue as a lay judge.'
'Leif made that decision himself', said Fast's boss Christer Forsberg. 'But no - it wouldn't have looked good if he'd insisted on staying on.'
Malmö left wing politician Hugo Diaz chose to leave his position when Aftonbladet published his criminal record. He was convicted and fined in 2010 for breaking into a strongbox at party headquarters. His party members were aware of what he'd done but chose to continue his appointment. The Malmö district court found out about by happenstance and suspended him for four months. Now he's gone.
'I should be given a second chance if it's a lesser crime!' protests former Swedish lay judge Hugo Diaz.
The current system (or lack thereof) requires the convicted lay judge personally report the matter to the court. As they're supposed to be setting a good example for the plebes, one might assume they'd do so. Court magistrate Peter Widebeck comments:
'We need to know about these verdicts but there's no mechanism for it today. All I can do is plead with my lay judges to turn themselves in. We also have to demand our political parties show more discretion.'
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