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 But that process has been criticized for being out of date.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.