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Swedish anti-deportation activist demands retrial

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Swedish anti-deportation activist demands retrial
Elin Ersson and her lawyer Tomas Fridh in court. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
08:37 CET+01:00
A Swedish activist who grounded a flight to save a rejected Afghan asylum seeker from being deported has appealed her fine, arguing that one of the lay judges should have been recused.

Gothenburg District Court last month fined Elin Ersson 3,000 kronor ($325) for her refusal to take a seat on the aircraft at Landvetter Airport in July last year. Her livestreamed protest went viral on Facebook.

Ersson has now appealed the sentence and is also arguing that she should be given a retrial, after the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper revealed that one of the lay judges had as early as July – months before the trial even started – called Ersson a "criminal" in a social media comment.

"It is an important principle of the rule of law that those who are to judge in a case do not have a biased opinion from the beginning," Ersson's lawyer Tomas Fridh told the TT news agency.

"If it emerges that a person had very strong opinions about you as an individual, long before the trial begins, I would argue that it is impossible to afterwards feel that you have been given a fair opportunity to have your case heard," he said.

READ ALSO: Swedish student fined for protest that grounded deportation flight

Gothenburg District Court is currently investigating whether or not the lay judge in question, a member of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party, failed in his duties of being impartial.

There were no dissenting opinions when the district court found Ersson guilty, with the exception of the Sweden Democrat lay judge who had argued for a tougher punishment of 14 days in jail.

Swedish courts use lay judges appointed by political parties to help the presiding professional judge. They are not qualified legal professionals and fulfil the role more commonly played by juries in countries like the UK or the US. In district courts three lay judges accompany one professional judge.

But the political influence on the lay judge appointment process is the root of a common criticism of Sweden's legal system.

While in principle every Swedish citizen over the age of 18 is eligible for nomination, in practice, parties put forward party members for the positions. Though by taking the judicial oath lay judges swear not to allow personal political views to influence their decision making, studies have shown that those political affiliations nonetheless impact verdicts in criminal cases.

READ ALSO: Has a controversial assault case exposed weaknesses in Sweden's legal system?

 
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