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Swedish lay judges suspended after criticized assault ruling

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Swedish lay judges suspended after criticized assault ruling
One of the lay judges has insisted he did not see the ruling before it was released. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
17:40 CET+01:00
Solna District Court has suspended two lay judges following a controversial assault ruling which stirred huge debate in Sweden after The Local broke the news last week.

On Friday The Local revealed how a man was acquitted of an alleged assault against his wife because his guilt could not be proven. The ruling sparked debate because it was based on factors such as that it was "not uncommon for women to falsely claim they have been assaulted" in order to get an apartment and that the woman was less credible for having gone to the police instead of resolving it within the family.

The ruling was swung by two lay judges in a split court, with the professional judge and a third lay judge instead arguing in favour of a guilty verdict. Debate has raged since the details emerged, with senior lawyers criticizing the ruling and questions raised about the role of lay judges in swaying the decision.

On Thursday the chief judge at Solna District Court said the pair behind the verdict had been suspended.

"The reason is that they expressed irrelevant considerations when assessing a story, so there is reason to question their suitability," chief judge Lena Egelin told the TT newswire.

"In this case it is primarily that they for example said that the woman is from a worse family than the man, and that does not exist in Swedish law in terms of evaluating evidence."

The court said in a statement that the two lay judges now have three weeks to respond, after which a final decision will be made.

READ ALSO: Does assault ruling show weaknesses in Sweden's use of lay judges?

Swedish courts use lay judges appointed by political parties at municipal level to help the presiding professional judge. They are not qualified legal professionals and fulfill the role more commonly played by juries in countries like for example the UK, or the USA.

The two lay judges were appointed by the Centre Party, who has expelled them from the party.

One of them, Hasan Fransson, had already posted a statement on Facebook saying he would leave his political affiliations and has voluntarily left his position as a lay judge. Fransson insisted he did not have time to read the ruling in written form before it was released, and opposed several parts of the text.

"Had I seen how it was formulated before it was sent out I would have obviously opposed," he noted, but added that he stood by the decision not to convict the accused.

The other lay judge defended the ruling when interviewed by tabloid Aftonbladet.

"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," Ebitsam Aldebe told the newspaper.

Aldebe, who ran for parliament in 2014, has been criticized in the past because she argued in an SVT interview that certain aspects of Swedish legislation – for example divorce and inheritance – should include separate rules for Muslims living in the country, comments which she today says were taken out of context.

She said she would appeal the court's decision to suspend her, arguing that she had chosen to acquit the man because there was not sufficient evidence. She criticized the wording of the judgment, written by the professional judge.

"It was written in a way aimed at us, as a personal attack. Even if we would have said those things, you do not write a judgment that way," she told TT, saying she and her family had received threats in the past few days.

"For two weeks there was a verdict. It only became a big scandal when it was written down and became public. And the ruling is a scandal, but I do not stand by it, because I did not see it and was not allowed to sign it."

The presiding judge in the case, Lena Klintefall, told TT: "I strongly reject that I have any hidden agenda or the like. I wrote what I perceived that they had put forward as the basis for their conclusions."

She said lay judges usually explain their arguments to the professional judge, who then writes the judgment. 

"It's not like there were two different rulings. I honestly don't know what she means. Lay judges never get to see a draft judgment or sign the judgment. No court does that, ever. It simply is not true."

Josefine Dahlqvist, the prosecutor in the case, told The Local on Friday that she had appealed the ruling, which means the case will be tried again in the appeals court.

READ ALSO: Controversial assault ruling sparks debate in Sweden

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