District courts ruled on over 12,000 cases last year where the penalty was limited to fines. But the defendant had legal representation in only 71 cases. Photo: Bertil Ericsson/Scanpix.

People charged with minor crimes must represent themselves in court

People who are charged with minor offenses are generally not entitled to a public defender, since assigning a lawyer would cost too much, according to Swedish Radio News. But critics now say the system needs to be changed to maintain integrity of the justice system.

Last year, Sweden's district courts ruled on some 12,000 cases that carried penalties less severe than jail time, for example, fines or probation. But only in 71 cases did the defendant have access to free legal representation, according to figures from the National Courts Administration.

Swedish Radio News spoke to Max, who was charged with resisting arrest and had to defend himself in court without ever seeing a copy of the preliminary investigation.

"In hindsight I sometimes think that if I had seen the papers I would have liked to have a lawyer," he said. "Maybe I wouldn't have been convicted of the crime if I had. I don't think I was guilty."

Max was arrested after a disturbance outside a restaurant in central Stockholm. Almost 18 months later, he was charged with resisting arrest. Since resisting arrest is considered a lesser crime he was not entitled to a public defender and was later found guilty and ordered to pay fines.

Judge Björn Skånsberg, at the district court in Södertörn, says that it is a question of money and whether or not taxpayers should pay for legal representation in lesser crime cases.

But lawyer Peter Althin says that the system needs to change. He has defended clients in similar trials but only if the client has paid out of his own pocket.

"You might not be able to explain yourself accurately, and as a result you might get a wrongful conviction," he said.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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