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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: nämndeman

If you are not a judge, but doing a judge’s job.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

A nämndeman is a layman who together with a professional judge passes judgements in court. The noun ​​nämnd is a committee of appointed people, a board, or a jury. The adjective nämnd, which means ‘named’ or ‘mentioned’, is also used in the sense of ‘appointed’. So a nämndeman is an ‘appointed man’. In English, you would call this person a ‘lay judge’.  

So, what is a lay judge? Sometimes called a lay assessor, a lay judge is a person assisting a judge in a trial. Not used in all legal jurisdictions, lay judges are appointed (and in the Swedish case politically appointed) and often require some legal instruction. The position is not permanent. 

In Sweden, nämndemän serve next to professional judges in district and appellate general and administrative courts, such as tingsrätt, hovrätt, förvaltningsrätt, kammarrätt, though not in the higher courts, such as Högsta domstolen and Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen. In district court trials lay judges always outnumber professional judges, a situation which is reversed in the appellate courts. 

It is the municipal assemblies that appoint lay judges to the district courts, whereas county councils appoint them to the appellate and county administrative courts. Nämndemän serve for four years, typically a bit more than a day a month. 

Would you like to become a nämndeman?

Then you should know that the position is open to all Swedish citizens over 18 and under 70 years of age, who are law-abiding, not in bankruptcy, and can pass a lämplighetsprövning – a test to see if you are suitable. There are also certain professions that are prohibited from serving, such as judges, court officers, prosecutors, police, attorneys, and other legal professionals.

People working at the following authorities are also prohibited from serving: Skatteverket, Försäkringskassan, Migrationsverket, Transportstyrelsen, and Länsstyrelsen.

An important takeaway here is that you need no legal training to become a nämndeman

You should also know that nämndemän are usually local politicians working at the assembly from which they were appointed, and they are appointed in proportion to political party representation at the last local elections. So if you want to serve you should approach your local party of choice. 

As many of you might imagine, this system of using non-professionals in the legal system is not without its controversies. 

In a famous example from 2018, The Local revealed that two lay judges at Solna District Court appointed by the Centre Party had swung a court ruling based on what party leader Annie Lööf described as “Islamist” values, and in doing so acquitted a man of an alleged assault against his wife. 

In the year that followed that scandal a member of Annie Lööf’s party motioned to abolish the system, a move many would support. But the system has a long tradition, the use of nämndemän in Sweden goes back about 800 years, and such traditions are not easily changed. 

Practice using nämndeman by asking your favourite Swedes what they know about the system and whether they think it is a good system. 

Here are some useful questions. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Bettan, vet du hur nämndemannasystemet fungerar?

Bettan, do you know how the nämndeman system works?

Tycker du att det är bra för rättvisan med nämndemän?

Do you think nämndemän are good for justice?.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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For members

SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

When you meet for a diet in the realm.

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

Riksdagen is the Swedish parliament, you will find its cognates in the old Danish term for their parliament, rigsdagen, although they now use the term folketing, and in German, the Reichstag

Riks– is from rike, which means ‘realm’ or in other words ‘kingdom’ as in kungarike. Svensk ordbok, the Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, tells us that rike is attested as far back as the 11th century on rune stones, that it is of Celtic origin, and that it is related to rik, the Swedish word for ‘rich’. It is believed to be of the same origin as rex in Latin, meaning king. Which should make kungarike a pleonasm, a redundancy, though hardly anyone will know that rike has this origin.

For comparison, ‘realm’ in English is from the Old French reaume, which in modern French is royaume, meaning ‘kingdom’. This is also from roy meaning ‘king’ which ultimately derives from the Latin rex, also meaning ‘king’. The kicker here is that Old Celtic languages and Latin were fairly closely related, some argue this is the reason they were easily replaced by Latin when the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

The -dag part of riksdag means ‘day’, but there is more to this word in this context, meaning an ‘appointed day’ or ‘gathering’. In English you can find a similar word in ’diet’. Howso, you ask? 

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Well, ‘diet’ goes back through Old French to the Latin diaeta, which could mean ‘a public assembly’, ‘a set day of trial’ or ‘a day’s journey’. That in turn derived from the Ancient Greek δῐ́αιτα meaning ‘way of living’ or ‘living space’ or ‘decision/judgement’. Which somehow was influenced by the Latin diēs, meaning ‘day’ – things get complicated at times in etymology it seems. Going to the riksdag then is going to the ‘diet of the realm’.

The word riksdag is borrowed from the German Reichstag, though the traditional Germanic term for these meetings or governing assemblies was a ting (as in the Danish folketing, mentioned above). We also touched on this in our möte word of the day article.

Sveriges riksdag, as you may well know, is the legislature and supreme decision-making body of the Kingdom of Sweden. You can visit the riksdag at Riksdagshuset on Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm, where you can watch debates or attend a guided tour. 

So, next time your friend tells you about their new diet, you can tell them all about the etymology of the name of the Swedish parliament. Have a good weekend!

Example sentences:

Vet du varför man har ordet ‘dag’ i riksdag?

Do you know why they use the word ‘dag’ in ‘riksdag’?

Vill du följa med mig till riksdagen?

Do you wanna tag along to the Swedish parliament? 

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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