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Pressure grows on criticized Swedish lay judge to step down

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Pressure grows on criticized Swedish lay judge to step down
Solna District Court. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
07:44 CET+01:00
One of two lay judges who pushed to free a man in a controversial assault ruling first broken by The Local has stepped down.

The Local last week reported on the February case from Solna District Court, where a Stockholm-based man was acquitted of an alleged assault against his wife from 2015 because his guilt could not be proven.

The professional judge in the case and one of the lay judges argued that he should be convicted of assault, but a conviction could not occur because the two other lay judges disagreed.

The lay judges in favour of freeing the man argued in the ruling that "it is not uncommon for women to falsely claim they have been assaulted", and also suggested the woman had reduced the credibility of her story by reporting it to the police instead of trying to resolve the dispute within the family.

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Legal experts consulted by The Local said the ruling looked unusual, and strayed away from the territory of objectivity.

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Both lay judges who argued for an acquittal were appointed by the Centre Party. When questioned by the Swedish press about the decision, one of the lay judges defended it.

"I've ruled in many cases. I've ruled in favour of men in some cases and in favour of women in some cases. In this case I followed the law. Swedish law," Ebtisam Aldebe argued to tabloid Aftonbladet after The Local first wrote about the story.

Aldebe, who ran for parliament in 2014, has previously been criticized after she several years ago argued in an interview with public broadcaster SVT that certain aspects of Swedish legislation – for example divorce and inheritance rights – should include separate rules applying to Muslims living in Sweden.

The other lay judge, Hasan Fransson, said on Monday that he would quit his political roles.

"It is true that I was one of two lay judges who chose to acquit the man. However, I based my assessment on evidence, witnesses and interrogations in court. The technical evidence was limited and her word was against his," he told Aftonbladet. He added that he never read the full judgment before it was published and would have opposed several points if he had, although he stood by the decision not to convict the accused.


A screenshot of the SVT interview.

Earlier on Monday the chief judge of Solna District Court, Lena Egelin, said she had called the lay judges in for a meeting to hear what they had to say. "After that we will assess their suitability and if they have behaved in such a way that they should not be lay judges," she told Aftonbladet.

In Sweden, municipal councils politically appoint lay judges.

The Centre Party called for both to leave their roles and said on Monday that they had initiated proceedings to potentially expel them from their 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.

The decision over whether Aldebe is made to leave her position must ultimately be taken by the head of Solna District Court.

Speaking to Aftonbladet on Sunday about Aldebe, Centre Party Solna group leader Magnus Persson said: "She supports the grounds for the decision. You can't be a Centre Party lay judge with something written like this. I told her that earlier in the evening."

The national branch of the party expanded on that point through Twitter:

"She has been asked to leave her position, which we assume she will do. This kind of sexist reasoning is completely unacceptable." 

"We are not for Sharia laws," the party added in response to a Twitter comment.

The prosecutor in the case explained to The Local that she was unhappy with how the ruling played out, and has appealed to the high court.

"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," Josefine Dahlqvist said.

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