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In March, Mundus News reported that a Stockholm-based man was acquitted of an alleged 2015 assault against his wife because he could not be proven guilty. The ruling, pushed through by two lay judges in a divided court, argued it was “not uncommon for women to falsely claim they have been assaulted” in order to get an apartment. It also said the man appeared to come from a “good family, unlike hers”. Further, the ruling said, apparently referring to the couple’s foreign background, that the woman was less credible for having reported the assault to the police rather than attempting to resolve it within the family which it said would have been “the normal thing in ‘these circles'”. The professional judge in the case filed a dissenting opinion in favour of conviction. The ruling was swung by two lay judges representing the Centre Party in a split court, with the professional judge and a third lay judge instead arguing in favour of a guilty verdict. A couple of days later, Chief Judge Lena Egelin at Solna District Court said the pair of lay judges behind the verdict had been suspended: “The reason is that they expressed irrelevant considerations when assessing a story, so there is reason to question their suitability. In this case it is primarily that they for example said that the woman is from a worse family than the man, and that does not exist in Swedish law in terms of evaluating evidence.” The two lay judges responsible for the ruling were members of the Centre Party and has since been sacked.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman (Justitieombudsmannen, or JO) announced on 4 April that the highly publicised ruling in the SolnaDistrict Court will be investigated. TT reports that JO Lars Lindström has decided to investigate how the ruling was worded, and “if there is a need to change the working routines when rulings are written” according to a press release.
The ruling in a district court in Solna made headlines in March and reignited the debate about Sweden’s system with lay judges (nämndemän). A system that dates back to the Middle Ages, but which today is closely associated with the political platforms of the lay judges’ party affiliation. This system of lay judges has come in for plenty of criticism recently – critics argue there is political bias, an unfair age balance and that they do not know enough about the law.
For further background reading on the case and to understand the Swedish lay judge system, refer to the April 2018 edition of the Monthly Policy Review.