Swedish lay judge wants capital punishment “for some races”

I have yet to discern the real advantages brought by lay judges to the Swedish judicial system. Presumably they are thought to bring a modicum of “real life” into the ivory tower of jurisprudence. But it seems to me that politically appointed lay judges pervert the course of justice more often than they assist it.

Sveriges Domstolar

Serving as a lay judge in a court is an honorary task.  It helps to maintain public confidence in judicial administration and is a way for the public to gain insight into the operations of the courts. The varying background and experiences of lay judges give the courts a broad picture of the general conception of justice in   society.  This is particularly valuable for assessment issues, for example, for evaluation of evidence, reasonability issues and choice of sentence. …

Lay judges are elected …  in the municipal council or county borough council after nomination by political parties. If a person wishes to be a lay judge, he or she contacts a political party and puts forward their interest.

The simple fact is that lay judges in Sweden today are mainly passive and often unprofessional – and I can’t say much worse than that. Yet another case of a lay judge demonstrating her unsuitability is reported in the Sundsvalls Tidning:

Lay judge Anita Edin (M) believes that one could impose the death penalty “for certain races.” After her statement the trial had to be interrupted.
“We obviously have zero tolerance for these things” said Judge Kristina Svedberg.
The statement was made during a break in a trial in Sundsvall District Court on Wednesday, where several persons of foreign origin were indicted for drug offenses. During the break, one of the three lay judges said that he would write a motion on the death penalty.
“Yes, at least for certain races”, responded Anita Edin, a lay judge and Moderate politician in Timrå. Judge Kristina Svedberg broke into the discussion between the jurors and pointed out to Anita Edin that statements about the death penalty on the basis of race were very inappropriate.
“No, it’s clear, you do not say such things. You can only think such things” said Anita Edin.

But in one respect Anita Edin has a point. I see no reason why – for real justice – different people committing the same crime should not be subject to differing penalties. But perhaps reserving capital punishment just “for some races” is going too far. Anita Edin should probably join the Sweden Democrats.

The Swedish use of lay judges is over 1,000 years old and it is a working system – but it does not improve the dispensation of “justice” (whatever one takes that to be). Professor Christian Diesen of Stockholm University writes –

CairnLay judges have always, without interruption, taken part in the administration of justice in Sweden. For more than a thousand years, lay judges, elected by the people, have been members of the local courts. The role has changed during the centuries, but – in contrast to all other countries in Europe except Finland (as Finland was a part of Sweden until 1809) – the lay judge has never been out of the system.

At the time of the Vikings all free men were assembled in the ting, where political matters were discussed and decided. The ting, held outdoors in a place of religious cult, also served, however, as a court. Many disputes were ”solved” through ordeals or duels, but in civil litigation the chief or leader of the court proposed a verdict to the members of the ting for approval ( – the Vikings banged their shields to signal agreement…). In the 13th century when the local courts were established (and the ordeals abandoned), the administration of justice in the country was carried out by a judge, appointed by the king, and 12 elected (permanent) members of the local community. In the 17th century the courts were led by professional judges (with legal education) and the proceedings changed from oral to written form, a change that reduced the influence of the lay members of the court. The legal reform of 1734 reduced that influence even further as it stipulated that all lay judges had to disagree with the professional judge in order to outvote him. At the beginning of the 19th century the introduction of the jury system was discussed, but the jury was introduced into the Swedish system only in cases concerning freedom of the press (and it still applies in these cases). During the 20th century two opposite lines can be seen in the development of the role of the lay judges : The number of lay judges in the local courts has been reduced, step by step. In 1918 the government decided that 3 lay judges were sufficient for minor criminal cases. In 1948 the number of lay judges was reduced from 12 to 9 for major criminal cases and in 1971 from 9 to 7. The same year lay judges disappeared from civil cases (except for cases concerning family law). In 1983 the number decreased to 5 for major criminal cases and in 1997 it fell to 3 lay judges in all criminal cases.

But though the number of lay judges has steadily decreased, they have, in spite of being politically appointed amateurs, also been given a higher individual standing

On the other hand, since 1971, lay judges participate in the proceedings of Court of Appeal (as a minority) as well as the administrative courts, and in 1983 lay judges of all courts received an individual voting right, which put them on an equal footing with a professional judge.

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