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Sweden's Lay Judge System: Pretty Secure? Or Pretty Much Not?
By Tony Olsson.
Foreword: A mental maniac by the name of Martin Fredriksson has repeatedly cited this article as proof that WikiLeaks is actually a neo-Nazi site, this through 'guilt by association': from this article to Rixstep, then to Sweden vs Assange where it was linked, then to the WikiLeaks twitter account. This is of course completely false.
Tony Olsson didn't write this piece for Rixstep. The piece was written in Swedish by Olsson and then translated by Rixstep. Rixstep and Olsson have never had contact.
Olsson is a notorious 'cop killer' involved in one of the biggest scandals in recent times in Sweden. He and his fellow inmates were invited to put on a play at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm (where Ingemar Bergman used to work). Olsson and company went along with the idea so as to plan their escape from prison. Swedish policemen were shot and killed during the escape.
This is all pointed out at the end of the article here. What was not known at the time was that Tony Olsson reputedly also harbours Nazi sympathies. And that was enough for the highly mental Martin Fredriksson to jump into action.
Make no mistake: Martin Fredriksson is a totally mental fanatic, far worse than the 'opponents' he points fingers at, with a 'rap sheet', available online as official Swedish police and court documents, that tells its own story - of someone who not only doesn't hesitate to break the law but who is clearly mentally unstable and given to acts of violence.
Martin Fredriksson is otherwise notorious for: 1) together with Maria Sveland threatening social critic Pär Ström into silence - an eyewitness to the brutal confrontation has already approached Rixstep; 2) now offering a bounty of SEK 150,000 to any hacker who can steal the user database at Flashback; and 3) being single-handedly behind the action of Swedish Amnesty to protest against the press release of Amnesty International calling for a rational conclusion to the Assange affair.
In the latest issue (#4 2010) of Suspected, which proudly proclaims it's Sweden's only crime magazine, there's a report by Karl Enn Henricsson about what it's like to work as a lay judge in Sweden at the Örebro district court. Because I in a former criminal life have personally and on numerous occasions (unfortunately) witnessed how trials in the district courts and appeals courts really work, and because I've always wondered what those lay judges were thinking during the proceedings, I found Henricsson's report fascinating.
For those of you who don't know how those lay judges are appointed or what's required of them in our country's district courts, let me tell you. They're nominated by the executive boards of their political parties. They're political appointments. Their nominations are treated as any other matter before the municipal council. Councils appoint lay judges in proportion to the number of seats each political party has on the council.
Lay judges are given an introduction to jurisprudence in the district court, but they're dilettantes, not experts. The lower courts have three lay judges, one chairman, and a clerk. The latter two are the only ones trained in jurisprudence. The clerk doesn't participate in the legal process - only the chairman and the three lay judges do that.
The report in Suspected includes an interview with one Katrin Tensmyr. Katrin is 72 years of age and has been working as a lay judge at the Örebro district court since 2002.
Katrin says she regards her appointment as an honorary position and she always tries to do her best. She gets paid SEK 500 (~$50) for a full day's work and SEK 250 (~$25) for a half day's work with travel expenses included.
Katrin says her job as a lay judge is the most fascinating job she's ever had, but at times it's a bit tiresome: 'I try to not think about it at home, but I can't blot out the rape cases. I once wondered how lawyers could agree to defend some of the defendants, but I've come to realise it's good that they do. We have to have a system that's as judicially secure as possible.'
I agree with Katrin: a judicial system must be as secure as possible. Defendants must have advocates no matter the crime. But the question is how secure is the system when lay judges are incompetent in matters of jurisprudence and don't understand how to evaluate evidence but instead end up determining culpability from totally different criteria - such as how defendants behave during trial?
Katrin says that what she does in the courtroom is she fixes her eyes on the defendants and studies their body language whilst the prosecutor presents the case. She makes notes of the defendants' reactions in her little notebook, and by those criteria tries to determine if the defendants are guilty as charged. She told Suspected the following:
'We lay judges are lay persons and we all view things differently. I observe the defendants a lot, watch how they act, and see what their body language tells me.'
'What their body language tells me'? I had to read that quote over and over to convince myself I'd got it right. Katrin Tensmyr is namely claiming she can determine culpability by studying body language. So what does this mean for people who are unluckily charged with crimes they didn't commit? Are they nervous in the courtroom, restless, have a difficulty articulating themselves with all the stress and pressure of a trial? For in such case there's a real risk they'll be adjudged to be guilty as charged.
Katrin Tensmyr doesn't go into detail about how one determines guilt by body language, and this is regrettable, as the country's legal experts would love to know how that's done. How can you determine someone's guilt by looking at them? Is there some established scientific method? Or perhaps some research which verifies that body language can be a basis for determining if a defendant is guilty as charged? No of course not! Guilt is determined by evaluating evidence. That is to say forensic evidence from the scene of the crime, for example fingerprints, DNA, eye witness testimony, all the things the prosecutor presents in court. And nothing else.
It's not only shocking to find that Katrin Tensmyr was nominated to be a lay judge by her political party and was thereafter chosen by her municipal council to judge people in the Örebro district court, it's also judicially insecure. And it begs a very important question - namely how many people have been convicted of crimes they didn't commit because Katrin Tensmyr and her fellow lay judges, totally lacking legal training, have on the basis of body language determined their guilt?
It's high time we reformed our Swedish judicial system. Abolish the lay judge system. It's a holdover from the Middle Ages. Replace it with a system that uses only judicial experts. A society with a secure judicial system determines guilt by evaluating evidence, not on a whim.
Tony Olsson is Sweden's most notorious criminal, currently serving a life sentence without parole for his part in a robbery where a policeman was killed. He's currently enrolled at Gävle University College where he's studying for a degree in history.
Olsson's written two books in prison: Chockvågor (Shock Waves) from 2005 and Breakout - How Sweden's Best Known Inmates Escaped from 2009. He also has a blog today at http://tonyolsson.blogspot.com maintained by his publisher.
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