Relatives "should have a say in sentencing"

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One hurdle has been cleared for a proposal to allow victims' relatives to have a role when people serving life sentences are considered for release. The Swedish Council on Legislation, Lagrådet, which determines whether new laws or changes in current law are constitutional, will allow the proposal to go forward.


Up to now, parliament has decided when a convict's sentence is commuted from life to a shorter time. But that process has been criticized for being out of date. Critics have also questioned whether the parliament is legally entitled to make such a decision.

Justice Minister Thomas Bodström suggested last June that the process be put in the hands of local courts.

Lagråget agreed with Bodström. Representative Lars Wennerström said: "In priniciple we don't see why this process should not be moved over to the court system." Further, the board one-upped the Justice Minister with the suggestion that victims and victims' families be allowed to give input.

"We think we should be getting a full, concrete perspective," said Wennerström.

In its official statement, Lagrådet wrote: "In order to fully weigh the decisions behind a change in sentencing, we should consider whether those affected by the case shouldn't be viewed as important players in commuting a life sentence."

An infamous murder case in California presents a conundrum, however. Annika Östberg is a Swedish citizen who has tried to come back to Sweden to serve her sentence, but the murder victim's family wants her to stay in a U.S. lockup.

Wennerström doesn't see that problem stopping the change in Swedish law. "If someone has committed a serious crime and is sentenced to at least eight years in jail, the plaintiff can appeal a lifetime sentence. When the sentence is changed it would be strange...and controversial... if the affected parties weren't informed at the very least."

Bodström tells SvD that victims "are entitled to a role in the process, but we won't have things the way they are in the U.S.," referring to the Östberg case. Bodström believes that relatives should be entitled to a limited role in the process. "They shouldn't be able to influence the actual sentencing, but they should have a role," he says.It is now his job to re-write the proposal to include victims and victims families somehow in the process.

Overall, Bodström says it's a good step in the judicial process.

Activists for victims of crimes are also pleased. Gudrun Nordborg at The Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority says: "It's great to have the opportunity to react. But it must be voluntary - no one should be forced to confront his or her attacker in court."

The change in the law is due to take effect at the start of 2006.

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