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Controversial assault ruling sparks debate in Sweden

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Controversial assault ruling sparks debate in Sweden
The ruling was one of the top stories in Sweden on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT & screenshots
14:00 CET+01:00
A controversial judgment in an assault trial has sparked debate about Sweden's legal system after The Local first broke the news about the ruling.

The Local revealed on Friday that a Stockholm-based man had been acquitted of an alleged assault against his wife from 2015 because his guilt could not be proven. The ruling, pushed through by two lay judges on 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".

The judgment also 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'".

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Swedish lawyers slammed the ruling.

"This is one of the most prejudiced and strange judgments I have read. Not completely unexpectedly dictated by two lay judges. Still no one in charge who wants to do something about the lay judge system?," tweeted Bengt Ivarsson, former president of the Swedish Bar Association, sharing The Local's article.

The ruling sparked a debate in Sweden on Monday about its legal system with lay judges holding the same power as professional judges in court. Lay judges serve as part of the bench and are used instead of a jury in criminal cases in district courts, together with a professional judge. In the appeal court the majority of the bench is made up of professional judges, and in the top-tier, the Supreme Court, there are no lay judges.

The professional judge in the case in question filed a dissenting opinion in favour of conviction.

ANALYSIS: Has this court case exposed weaknesses in Sweden's use of lay judges?

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Lay judges are appointed by political parties on a municipal level. The Centre Party, which appointed the two lay judges who voted in favour of acquittal, said they had initiated proceedings to potentially expel them from the party.

"Horrendous judgment in Solna. Hair-raising reasoning and values that have no place in a state built on legal principles. These values have no place in our party. (The Centre Party's) politics are based on all people's equal rights and value, and being equal before the law," wrote Centre Party leader Annie Lööf on Twitter.

Roger Haddad, justice spokesman for the Liberal Party, along with the Centre Party a member of Sweden's four-party centre-right Alliance opposition, referred to controversial comments one of the lay judges had made on a previous occasion in support of in some instances creating separate laws for Muslims living in Sweden:

"I do not want politically appointed lay judges in the courts. And I definitely do not want those who are in favour of Sharia laws in Sweden. The Solna District Court judgment must lead to action and consequences."

"Most lay judges are of course good," commented lawyer Viktor Banke, who also criticized the ruling in an opinion piece in Sweden's largest tabloid Aftonbladet, adding that almost "all significant mistakes are committed by lay judges. Which is not that strange because the idea is that they are lay people."

The ruling was one of the top stories in Sweden on Monday, with several of the countries biggest media outlets citing The Local's article, including TTExpressen, Dagens Nyheter, Metro and Dagens Juridik.

Josefine Dahlqvist, the prosecutor in the case, told The Local on Friday that she had appealed the ruling.

"A lot of the things in the ruling have nothing to do with the case and are unproven conjecture. I think the district court made a significant error when it came to evaluating the evidence, and the ruling doesn't follow Sweden's rules for evaluating evidence," said Dahlqvist.

A legal expert in criminal law from Stockholm University told The Local the judgment was unusual:

"What I can say is that it's not normal for a ruling to look like this. They usually show the different points of views of the chairperson and one lay judge, in other words they're more objective, where personal sentiments are not included, regardless of which way the ruling goes," law professor Malou Andersson explained.

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