Swedish courts are about to get tougher on murder

Sweden will start locking more murderers up for life, in a new proposal set to go before parliament this year.

Swedish courts are about to get tougher on murder
Swedish courts will start handing out more life sentences for murder, according to a new proposal. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's centre-left government was on Wednesday set to give a new legislative proposal the go-ahead. It is expected to get parliament's backing and will then come into force on January 1st, 2020.

Today, 14 years' imprisonment is the standard penalty for murder in Sweden, in cases where there are no other factors to take into account. A life sentence is only handed out in exceptional cases, for example if the perpetrator killed more than one person or if aggravating circumstances apply.

The law change will mean that more external factors can be considered for a life sentence.

“It could be that the perpetrator caused the victim severe suffering, that the method was particularly reckless, that a person close to the perpetrator was the target, that it happened in the victim's home or in front of other people close to them, for example children,” explained Sweden's Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, adding that two thirds of female murder victims are killed by someone close to them.

A majority of convicted murderers will be sentenced to life in jail after the new law comes into effect, according to the minister, with the percentage of life sentences then set to increase from 30 to over 50.

“Murders that previously led to 15 to 18 years in jail will in the future instead give you life in jail.”

Critics of the law change have argued that tougher punishment does not necessarily lead to a decrease in crime. But the justice minister said incarceration was an important factor in and of itself.

“If you are sentenced to life in jail, you will stay there until you are no longer considered to be dangerous,” he said, adding that as long as the convicted murderers are locked up they can not fall back into crime.

A person who is serving life in jail can after a certain period of time apply to have their sentence converted to a time-limited sentence. In practice, a life sentence in Sweden averages around 16 years.

Swedish politicians have previously attempted to get tough on murder. But a separate law change pushed through in 2014 had little effect, which Sweden's Council on Legislation – a body that scrutinizes draft bills before the go before parliament – had warned of. The council had no objections to the new proposal.

Sweden sentenced a total of 128 people to jail for murder last year, 18 to psychiatric care and four to juvenile detention.

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Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.