Assange and Extradition Redux

Bernard Porter

Yesterday’s Dagens Nyheter carried an article by two leading Swedish lawyers on the Assange extradition case. ‘Assange’s criticism of Sweden is right on several points,’ the headline says. There’s a report on it in English here. Their criticisms centre on (a) the lack of a jury system in Sweden (verdicts are arrived at by a judge flanked by two party appointees); (b) the fact that accused people awaiting trial are kept in prison for months, without bail, and often in solitary confinement (the European Court has already condemned Sweden for this); and (c) the fact that in some cases (such as rape) trials can be held in secret.

When a few months ago I wrote here that considerations like this might help one to understand why Assange was nervous of extradition to Sweden – I wasn’t claiming that the Swedish system was worse overall, only that it operated in a different culture, which those from an Anglo-American tradition might find it difficult to understand or to trust – it was resented by most of my Swedish friends, though it turned out that none of them had more than the haziest idea about their own system (how could they, when they play no part in it?); and attacked in some of the comments on my post. One of the latter more or less accused me of being a BNP fellow-traveller. So it's good to have a bit of support from the Swedish side.

I still have no settled opinion on the virtues of the Swedish legal system. I’m sure there are ways in which it’s superior to the English one. (Most Swedish things are.) I was hoping to learn of these from comments on my earlier blog, but none was forthcoming before the discussion degenerated (into one on the practice of pseudonymity!). Perhaps things will be different this time?


  • 6 May 2011 at 8:47pm
    kolchi says:
    Coming from sweden, I'm able to read the original text, and I think you made some misinterpretation of it. For one, the text doesnt really have a focus on the Assange case, but on things that could improve in the system.

    "At first we want to make clear that we believe that his [assange's] criticism all in all is unsound, Sweden has a well functioning juridicial system and in many aspects a model internationally"

    They also speculate about Assange:

    "Its also possible that Assange, fullfil all the criteria for a true «rättshaverist»" (rättshaverist is a swedish word for a person who obsessively feels wronged, particularly about minor causes of action.)

    But as you say they does say "He [Assange] is partially right about the Swedish legal system, and that should improve".

    In my view the swedish juridicial system is not more corrupt then others. And if you are white, middle/upperclass you're much much less likely to have an unfair trail. And when you like Assange have one of Swedens most prominent Lawyers, your in a realy good possition.

    And the talk about Assange is gonna be extradited to USA, is just rubish. I would say that its even more probable that England would do that.

  • 6 May 2011 at 11:20pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    Perhaps I can be allowed to add a general point in elucidation of my original post.

    My main purpose in both my pieces on this has been to point out the cultural differences between Britain and Sweden that lie, I think, behind Assange’s fears of being tried in Sweden. These fears may be reasonable or not, but they are understandable in the light of those differences. I would share them, if I were ever charged with a crime in Sweden. At the crux of them is the importance that Britons (and Americans, and Australians) attach to the jury system, which I don’t find Swedes quite appreciate. Being tried by one’s peers – twelve of one’s equals, randomly chosen – lies at the root of our conception of our democratic ‘freedom’, and indeed constitutes the very historical foundation of it; this, at least, is what all British children are taught at school. It’s meant to protect us from official persecution and tyranny. Of course it often works very badly in this regard; but there are some notable cases in British history where juries, going against the advice of judges, have furthered particular political freedoms quite significantly.

    So you can see why we are almost bound to mistrust a court comprised of a judge and two political appointees. And why we were, incidentally, so greatly shocked by Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s intervention in the Assange case back in February; which in Britain would have been considered to trespass on the rights of a jury, and so have left Reinfeldt open to a charge of ‘contempt of court’, for which he could – I believe - have been imprisoned.

    One of the reasons why Swedes don’t share this view may be that they tend to trust their governments and officials more. In their case this may be justified; my impression is that Swedish officials are generally less corruptible and potentially oppressive than British ones (though I could be wrong here). And it has to be said that the characteristic distrust of – cynicism towards - officialdom in Britain can be highly destructive, in many ways. I’m not saying that either attitude is preferable to the other. But you need to be aware of this great cultural difference – especially the ‘jury’ point - in order to understand Assange’s (and my) worries.

    Since my first post I’ve read up quite a bit on Swedish law; but I’ve not yet found a detailed defence of Swedish court procedures (as opposed to Swedish laws) which can be said to justify them. That’s what I’m looking for in this discussion.

  • 7 May 2011 at 10:28am
    Debra says:
    I've read up a bit on the Swedish legal system too and it seems to me there is a great capacity for miscarriages of justice when b) - long incarceration on remand - is coupled with the serious inbalance created by the fact that the Swedish prosecution service provides defence lawyers/defendants with virtually no information about a case until very, very late in the process. This is normal under the Swedish system as it is designed to ensure that trials go ahead very promptly once charges are formally laid, which happens at the end of the (usually quite lengthy) preliminary investigation.

    As we were told by Swedish jurists during Assange's extradition hearing in February, prosecutors cannot decide to prosecute until the preliminary investigation is completed because the defendant - having finally received the details of the case against them - must be given an opportunity to call for extra witnesses, re-interviews, etc. In practice, however, they simply don't get enough time to do so as formal charges follow swiftly and the trial is then scheduled for a week or so later.

    It is, apparently, quite normal for a defendant to be presented with a one-page summary memo of the charges at the remand hearing and for the prosecutor to then spend, say, up to a year working on the case yet the defence will only receive the full case paperwork a week before the trial. For complex cases where the case file may be hundreds of pages long this presents the defence lawyers with an almost impossible task.

    The defendant who happens to be a foreign national is even more disadvantaged because Sweden is not taking seriously its UN-mandated human rights obligation to provide defendants with the charges against them in a language they understand and to do so early on in the process. I believe the original article you quote also made it clear that people in the Swedish legal profession just don't seem to get why this should be a problem.

    Per Samuelson is a very well-respected Swedish jurist. Here he is writing about the lack of checks and balances on the power of Swedish prosecutors:

    Here's another article - by journalist Trond Sefastsson and attorney Johan Eriksson - about the lack of proof required for a guilty verdict in many cases and Sweden's poor appeals system:

  • 7 May 2011 at 10:39am
    Debra says:
    Me again. I'd also like to point out that this comment from kolchi:

    And if you are white, middle/upperclass you’re much much less likely to have an unfair trail.

    says almost all that needs to be said about the failure of the Swedish people to really look at their justice system in any meaningfully critical way.

    Dear Kolchi, please look up the meaning of the word 'oxymoron'.

  • 9 May 2011 at 12:04pm
    Gunnar says:
    More specifically, there is often in prominent cases an almost built-in conflict playing out between the public prosecutor and the police officers on whose investigation the prosecutor makes - or does not make - his/her case. This was most notoriously the problem with the investigation and subsequent trials relating to the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Another case was that of Simon Hayward, the alleged "drug-running Guards officer", whose book I reviewed in the pages some years ago>