04 juni 2013

The Catrine da Costa case – Legal incompetence and corruption


Posted by: Dispatch International April 4, 2013. Fourth article in a series.

After the two show trials in the district court of Stockholm against the two doctors charged with the murder of Catrine da Costa, the National Health Board revoked their licenses to practice medicine. This was done referring to the acquittal from the court stating that they had dismembered the dead body. Thus, they were both acquitted and punished under the same verdict. The National Health Board decision was appealed several times, and the battle for justice and restitution continues even today.

The decisive trial about the licenses of Thomas Allgén and Teet Härm began on a spring day in April 1991 at the Administrative Court in Stockholm. Almost two years have passed since the devastating verdict from the district court. The doctors were acquitted, but were thought to have dismembered the body, their punishment being barred due to the statute of limitations.

The justification was appealed, but the high court as well as the supreme court refused to nullify it. The case was then taken to the Administrative Court in order to cancel the National Health Board decision. The legal wrangling  started with annulling the decision, giving the doctors their licenses back.

But then the Supreme Administrative Court stepped in, demanding that the Administrative Court should retry the case, now demanding that the case had to be decided with presentation of evidence as in a criminal case, despite the Administrative Court having no such legal competence.

The Social Democrat Laila Freivalds was Minister of Justice at the time, and it was legally and politically impossible to take this without her approval. The procedure has even been called “the politicized miscarriage of justice”.

At the retrial on the spring day in 1991, hordes of hard-line feminists had assembled in the street outside, with banners stating “Class before gender”, “Who will be the next victim?” and “Women get no justice”. From the shouting came the slogan ”Hear our call, grave respect for all!”.

The over-inflated media expectations stimulated the general public as well as demonstrators. The news anchor Olle Andersson at state broadcaster SVT was practically alone in his early observation of his colleagues’ attitude:

”What really astonished me was the hateful mood among reporters from Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Aftonbladet and from the opinion writers of those newspapers. The doctors were to be hung up by their genitals, they were guilty! During the breaks at the trials, there was hatred emanating from the walls from those reporters.”

The crime journalist Ewa Thures from the news agency TT described Thomas Allgén as a ”schoolboy looking like an old man”. And Gun Fälth of Dagens Nyheter, who worked as a prosecutor in the past, considered it tiresome to listen to Allgén, that he was ”arrogant and jealous over his dignity”. Britt Edwall, a hardcore feminist at the state broadcaster Sveriges Radio, thought that Teet Härm was ”brooding, gray and closed” beside his lawyer, whom Edwall thought was ”as if taken directly from a theater piece by Molière”.

As the two doctors fought at court for their professional honor and future, all media impartiality and objectivity was gone with the wind.

The Administrative Court had one issue to decide: whether Allgén and Härm were still worthy to work as doctors. Bertil Södermark, the National Health Board spokesman in the case, demanded in his submissions that the standards of proof had to be set lower than in the district court, as there was no fundamental right to work as doctors. An ID issue was not the same thing as being charged with murder, Södermark held.

This trial featured the reappearance of roughly the same set of witnesses as at the district court, as well as various psychiatrists and psychologists as expert witnesses, fighting each other over the credibility of the testimony from the child Karin about what she was claimed to have experienced.

Journalists of culture such as Yrsa Stenius at Aftonbladet and Eva Ekselius at Dagens Nyheter wrote about the conflict as if they were themselves experts in the matter. The shifting role identities among the journalists were obvious. Furthest down that road was the star writer Per Svensson of Expressen as he tried to analyze what went on in the head of Teet Härm:

”The Coroner is a mere two years older than myself. There are several boys of his kind in my schoolyards, boys who were not permitted to play along, and who would rather stay at home, do homework, study books about the style of SS uniforms, gluing together plastic models of German tanks.” Svensson continued: ”Boys of this kind used to like experimenting with pulling the legs off flies. And the lord of the flies in a doctor’s coat is a nightmare figure you would prefer avoiding any contact with.”

Yrsa Stenius of Aftonbladet wrote seven chronicles, one from each day at court. She saw Thomas Allgén before her ”as a man who is strict and controlled, bordering on lifeless. [...] The man behaves a bit like a robot. Yet, from time to time, something does trickle through the iron curtain.”

The hard-line feminist struggle to punish the two doctors was beginning to look like a public movement, and soon the campaign was given a name: “Justice for Catrine”. There were daily demonstrations, and when the verdict came on May 31st, the conclusion was given in advance.

Thomas Allgén and Teet Härm did not get their doctor’s licenses back. The miscarriage of justice had now been confirmed by a court lacking the legal competence to evaluate the case.

On that evening, 600 feminists marched through the streets of Stockholm, red roses in their hands. At the staircase leading to the High Court of Svea, the hard-line feminist Hanna Olsson, who succeeded in making the prosecutor Anders Helin take the case to the district court a second time, spoke:

Olsson was hoping that the word “whore” could now be eliminated. “After this, only the word ‘woman’ exists. We are breaking a millennium-old patriarchal order under the man,” Olsson was shouting to the jubilant women laying down their roses on the stairs to the court.

In the last chapter: The doctors fight their last battle – demanding Skr 40 million (€4.8 million) compensation for damages.

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