05 juni 2013

The Catrine da Costa case – media court and the enemies of justice

Posted by Dispatch International April 11, 2013. Fifth and last article in a series.

Despite all setbacks, the two doctors did not give up their battle for justice and restitution. They appealed the revocation of their medical licenses to Regeringsrätten (The Supreme Administrative Court) – who rejected their filing. Then came an extended period involving a series of applications for restitution, and a couple of filings at the European Commission of Human Rights. All were rejected, as if an assembly line were stamping blank papers with rubber stamps.

This legal intermission went on for a full twelve years, until Anders Agell, a professor emeritus in civil law, took up the case in 2003. Yet another application for restitution was denied,.

Submissions to Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz produced no results, and the Chancellor likewise refused to agree to a multi-million kroner demand for damages. Lambertz thought that would be for a court to decide.

So, after having worked on the case for four years, on April 2007 Anders Agell filed a case against the Swedish state, at the district court of Attunda, demanding a total of Skr 40 million (€4.8 million) in damages, loss of income and negligence on the part of the state.

The first step in that case, which was to become number 16 in the sequence after 1988, was a so-called interlocutory, where judge Nils Hedström declined to accept the claim from the State that events predating 1991 were past the statute of limitations. Then the Director of Attunda district court, Erik Ternert, claimed Hedström was in a conflict of interest, to the advantage of the doctors.

Nils Hedström was withdrawn from the case, and Ternert himself took over. But at the same time the undersigned revealed in a series of articles that Erik Ternert had dealt secretly with the state agent, who at that time was an assistant of the Chancellor of Justice. In a narrow circle, judge Ternert had also promised that the case would never actually be taken up at court. My revelations led to Judge Ternert’s being forced to resign from his office.

Erik Ternert had also attempted to compel the obviously talented Anders Agell to leave the case, referring to his age. Professor Agell, 77 at the time, became extremely angry over the excesses by Ternert.

However, when the case for damages eventually came before the Attunda district court in November 2009, Anders Agell had died, having been replaced by the lawyers Kajsa Blomgren and Carl Johan Vahlén representing the doctors. 157 points were presented wherein the State was considered to have acted incorrectly, illegally or with negligence.

The Swedish State was represented through the Chancellor of Justice by the retired judge Ingvar Gunnarsson, who back in the days was a close friend and colleague of Carl Anton Spak, the man who had penned the devastating justification for the verdict back in 1988.

The spokesman for the court was judge Sten Falkner, a former prosecutor who had previously worked on laws at the Ministry for Justice and had also worked for the National Prosecutor. That made him a clear example of the very unfortunate practice in which top-level lawyers move between various positions within the legal system. The risk of corruption through friendship is too large.

It would soon turn out that the scandals from the previous legal circus were to see new chapters, in the damages case as well the debacle concerning Erik Ternert’s blunders. For the State had neglected to file its objections to the 157 points justifying damages, and was now forced into simply giving up on all objections.

That made a flabbergasted Sten Falkner ask the lawyers what they wanted ”to be written in a future verdict”. That was no simple oversight from the side of the State, it was pure carelessness, the State’s attorneys demanding many breaks for deliberations. To the audience it was like following a game of chess with the Devil, who was eventually forced to sacrifice his queen.

”We have been nagging them like crazy for 18 months to file the objections, but they have not bothered to do so,” attorney Kajsa Blomgren said during one of the breaks.

Apart from the legal chess games, the proceedings brought forth only a little real news. The first came when the professor in forensic medicine, Jovan Rajs, gave his testimony. He was the absolute crowning witness in the damages case, due to his position as the Härm’s superior at the medical investigation clinic at Solna. Already at an early stage, he had turned his adept Teet Härm into the police, via a handwritten letter to the technical police division.

Now, 25 years later, Rajs claimed that the only thing he knew with certainty was that da Costa had been murdered. ”But who had murdered her I can’t tell,” he said. Rajs was the person who had autopsied the body parts, and his unwavering testimony in the previous cases, primarily against Teet Härm, had been very decisive.

Jovan Rajs also got into a heated courtroom quarrel with Kajsa Blomgren, as she started reading out his memoirs, in which he describes Teet Härm as ”a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

Rajs then shouted aggressively to the entire room: ”No quoting, if you read, you must read the complete chapter. This is not Moscow in 1936.” With his verbal outbursts, Rajs attempted to equate the case with the Stalinist purges in the former Soviet Union. If Rajs had previously been a respected professor in forensic medicine, and previously had pawned his credibility on Härm’s status as both a killer and a dismemberer, he managed on that day to squander all his respect.

It was a clearly shaken person who left the court abruptly after his testimony, accompanied by extreme feminists, who yet again had turned up.

One of the jurors from the 1988 murder case also gave testimony. John-Henri Holmberg explained that he had no idea what the content of the devastating verdict justification would be. Also, he had no knowledge of how that justification was to be written, and got to see the complete verdict only on the same day it was published.

Two judges were also forced to the witness stand: Ingegerd Westlander, who penned the justification about dismembering along with Carl Anton Spak, and Peter Wennerholm, who penned the verdict from the Administrative Court about revoking the doctor’s licenses. But both of them crawled insecurely back and forth among their claimed memory gaps, or referred to the judge’s oath, which prevents judges from revealing details from the individual court deliberations. And the spokesman for the court, Sten Falkner, let them keep up their charades with a smile.

At this point, the media circus had taken down its tent and packed up, coverage of the case was very limited, and no so-called “cultural personalities” appeared during the hearings. Possibly they were ashamed of their previous excesses in reporting.

In the verdict from Attunda District Court, which was handed down in February 2010, 26 of the 157 points from the doctors’ side were upheld, but the district court did not consider any of those points serious enough to justify damages. The verdict was appealed to the High Court as well as to the Supreme Court, but without any result.

In total, some 30 judges have been involved in the 18 different cases through three decades. And we can easily note that in many cases, judges have protected each other from criticism for previous mistakes.

The Catrine da Costa case has been characterized by pure cowardice, miserable legal incompetence and corruption. But the word “corruption” does not exist in Swedish law book. And yet, all of these combined have been the sparks that ignited the fire of legal decay and burned justice to ashes.

By Anders Carlgren

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