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Assange right to slam Swedish courts: lawyers

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Assange right to slam Swedish courts: lawyers
16:48 CEST+02:00
Nearly one third of lawyers in Sweden, including best-selling author and lawyer Jens Lapidus, believe that criticism directed at the country's legal system by WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange is warranted, according to a new survey.

"He is partially right about the Swedish legal system," writes Lapidus, a defence attorney and author of the best selling 2006 crime novel "Snabba Cash" ('Easy Money'), along with prominent defence lawyer Johan Åkermark, in an article published on Thursday in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

The authors reference a study published in Legally Yours, a trade publication for the legal profession in Sweden, which surveyed 9,000 lawyers.

The survey, known as the Juristbarometern, revealed that 31.9 percent of lawyers answered yes when asked if they agreed with Assange's criticism of the Swedish legal system.

According to Lapidus and Åkermark, both of whom are partners in the same law firm as Assange's Swedish attorney Björn Hurtig, the WikiLeaks' founder is justified in taking issue with several aspects of the Swedish criminal justice system.

Writing in DN, the two lawyers explain that Assange is warranted in questioning Sweden's rules on remanding suspects in custody, which often prevent defence attorneys from having a chance to review material used as the basis for remand decisions until minutes before prosecutors present the evidence to a judge.

"We're of the opinion that remand in Sweden is used in a way that many other states governed by the rule of law would find unfamiliar," they write.

Speaking to Legally Yours, Hurtig said the statistics cited by Lapidus and Åkermark show that "mistrust of our legal system is greater than many believe".

"The system is built up so that, in principal, the suspect doesn't have any insight into the preliminary investigation," he said.

In addition, Lapidus and Åkermark share Assange's concerns about having lay judges, many of whom are retired politicians rather than trained legal professionals, preside over trials in Swedish courtrooms.

Also problematic for Assange is the possibility that, were he ever to face trial in Sweden, it would likely be held behind closed doors, a common practices when it comes to sex crime cases in Sweden.

While Lapidus and Åkermark admitted they didn't have any statistics on closed-door trials, "our impression is that proceedings are held behind closed doors more often in Sweden in many other states governed by the rule of law".

The authors are quick to point out, however that "Sweden has is a well functioning state based on the rule of law and in many respects is a model internationally".

Lapidus and Åkermark emphasise that, while they "don't care specifically about Julian Assange" or the question of his innocence or guilt, they feel a responsibility to "remove the stains that exist in our system" which Assange's criticism has highlighted.

In February, a London court ruled that Assange could be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over sex crimes allegations stemming an August 2010 visit to Sweden by the WikiLeaks founder.

Assange's lawyers appealed the ruling in early March and his appeal is scheduled to be heard on July 12th.

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