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June 14, 2010

Sweden Denies Due Process to Family

In a stunning display of bureaucratic indifference and contempt of due process rights, a local Swedish court has removed a highly qualified attorney from the Johansson case.

Back in June 2009 when 8-year-old Domenic Johansson and his parents were seated on an international flight bound for India—where they were moving—Domenic was taken into custody without a court order by local social workers and the police. The Johanssons have only been permitted to visit their son for an hour once every five weeks.

Appointed only after much back-and-forth with the judicial system, attorney Ruby Harrold-Claesson has now been removed from the case after she attempted to visit Domenic’s school with his parents just a few weeks ago. Harrold-Claesson is president of the Nordic Human Rights Committee and a well-known human rights attorney in Sweden who specializes in working with families whose children have been taken away from them by the state. Following her attempt to visit Domenic, social workers immediately retaliated by cutting off all phone contact.

Unlike most Swedish lawyers who are, in all cases, both appointed and paid for by the courts, Harrold-Claesson aggressively and tenaciously fights an often uphill-battle against social services agencies, guardians ad litem and judges that just go along with the recommendations of social workers. She has taken a number of cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

HSLDA Staff Attorney and Director of International Affairs Mike Donnelly commented that this action goes against the basic notions of fairness.

“Ruby’s dismissal by the court is shocking in light of the most basic understanding of fairness and due process,” said Donnelly. “One of the principal requirements of due process is that a person be represented by counsel of their choosing, to a fair and impartial judiciary, with an opportunity for a full and fair hearing of all the disputed facts. By removing Harrold-Claesson, the court has dramatically interfered with Mr. Johansson’s right to counsel and called the fairness of the entire process into question.”

Apparently such unfairness is of concern to some in Sweden.

A member of the Swedish Lawyers Guild has severely criticized Sweden’s family court system for corruption. In a 2009 article “Compulsory Care: Consensus in the Courts Threatens the Rule of Law” on the Swedish Lawyers Guild website, law professor Anna Hollander wrote, “cases concerning administrative forcible care are characterized by a spirit of cooperation, where the rule of law may draw the shortest straw. These are the findings of researchers who studied cases of compulsory care in a number of county courts. But judges in the county court do not recognize the picture.”

Professor Hollander goes on to suggest three solutions for the protection of the victims of the system: “There is need for a new, more scientific inquiry culture within the investigating authorities, rooted in knowledge of children and the requirements set out in the law on compulsory care. It is not reasonable that the court appoints and pays the lawyers on the case. The risk is that the court would prefer people who do not examine the cases in detail. For the rule of law, it is important to have different loyalties built into the system. The courts need to be more active, and examine the investigation, facts and circumstances that appear to be contradictory at the hearing.”

Such suggestions appear elementary in the context of due process and family courts but apparently not so in Sweden. The Johansson case is a study in these problems with the latest court decision only reinforcing the image of corruption in the Swedish court system.

Attorney Harrold-Claesson is appealing the decision and notes regretfully that this is not the first time she has had to fight indifference or arrogance from “omnipotent” judges in the Swedish Justice system.

“The judges in the courts are omnipotent,” she said. “They can do whatever they want to do. During the more than 20 years of law practice in Sweden, I have managed to have five judges removed from cases.”

It is shocking that a country like Sweden would not allow a person to have the lawyer of his or her choosing. We call on the Swedish courts in Gottland to allow Mr. Johansson to have an attorney of his choosing, an attorney who will actually fight for what is right, not one who will just go along with the grave injustice that has been perpetrated on this family. Please pray for this family—that they would be able to have the lawyer of their choosing and that their son would be returned to them soon.

Jonas Himmelstrand, president of the National Homeschoolers Association of Sweden (ROHUS), notes that unless the parliament acts, the Johansson’s story will become commonplace for Swedish homeschoolers.

“The Swedish parliament has a chance to stand for freedom by voting against proposed changes to the school law that would essentially ban home education,” said Himmelstrand. “What the Swedish authorities have done to this family is wrong. I’m afraid this story could become more commonplace if parliament does not act in the coming weeks.”

Himmelstrand has reported that the Swedish parliament is considering a proposal that would allow homeschooling only under “extraordinary” circumstances. HSLDA is aware of nearly half a dozen cases in Sweden where families are being fined by the authorities for homeschooling their children.

Donnelly notes Sweden’s parallel with Germany.

“If Sweden passes this law, they will take a step down the path that Germany has been walking in persecuting homeschoolers. The United States has granted asylum to at least one German homeschooling family because of persecution; perhaps Sweden will be next.”

 Other Resources “Judge Banishes Family’s Custody Lawyer”