Lars Lindström - summary 2018/19

Parliamentary Ombudsman, supervisory area 1

Bild på JO Lars Lindström. Foto: Pernille Tofte Photographer: JO

Supervisory area 1 comprises the Courts, the Enforcement Authority, the planning and construction service, the land survey authorities, environment and health protection, the Tax Agency, the Chief Guardians, the education system and the communications area. During the year, 1,999 complaints were received, which is an increase of 28 cases compared with the previous year. 2,011 complaint cases were settled during the year.

Over the year, I have inspected Ystad District Court, the City Planning Board of Karlstad Municipality, Borås District Court, Luleå District Court, the Rent and Lease Tribunal in Stockholm and Härnösand Administrative Court. I have assigned Head of Division Charlotte Håkansson to inspect the City Planning Board of Södertälje Municipality and the County Administrative Board of Stockholm.

In the following account, I will present some of the decisions that are included in this year’s annual report.

Delay in pronouncing a District Court judgment

The annual report for the previous year (JO 2018/19 p. 50) contains an account of my observations regarding a district court judge’s processing of four cases: two criminal cases and two civil cases. In each of the four cases, the judge had pronounced a judgment much later than what is applicable pursuant to the principle provision. I found these incidents severe enough to constitute actionable professional misconduct, and I therefore reported them to the Government Disciplinary Board for Higher Officials. The board shared my view in three of the cases and issued a warning against the judge.

There is a similar case in this year’s annual report (ref. no. 611-2018). A district court judge had failed to pronounce a judgment within the prescribed time limit in four cases, three civil cases and one criminal case. During a period of just over three months, the judge had postponed the judgments in these four cases a total of 14 times, which meant that the judgments were pronounced between just over three weeks and just over three months after the main hearings were concluded.

There are, in other words, substantial similarities with the earlier case, and I naturally considered reporting the judge to the Government Disciplinary Board for Higher Officials. However, I refrained from doing so because the delays in this case were not severe enough to constitute actionable professional misconduct. In my assessment, I took into consideration that the judge had a burdensome job situation during the period in question. I issued a statement indicating that the judge should be severely criticised for the delays in pronouncing a judgment.

Processing of cases regarding compulsory care at the Administrative Courts

A fundamental task of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen is to monitor that deprivation of liberty is not executed without legal grounds. Matters concerning deprivation of liberty on the grounds of public safety are widespread in the general courts. My opinion is that these courts, as a rule, process these matters correctly. However, on several occasions I have found cause to direct criticism towards the general administrative courts for shortcomings in the processing of administrative detention cases (JO 2012/13 p. 226, 237 and 240, JO 2013/14 p. 297, JO 2015/16 p. 303, and JO 2018/19 p. 68).

Unfortunately, this year’s annual report contains two more examples of cases where administrative courts have failed in the processing of administrative detentions (ref. nos. 2743-2018 and 2744-2018). The summaries show that in these cases, it was not a matter of negligence or oversight, but rather of the judges simply misunderstanding the meaning of applicable law. In my opinion, it is problematic that judges are unable to implement such central provisions adequately, particularly as it concerns the deprivation of liberty.

Slow processing by the Administrative Court in Gothenburg

Three of the decisions in this year’s annual report (ref. nos. 5639-2018, 7755-2018 and 134-2019) concern the processing times of the Administrative Court in Gothenburg. The decisions show that the situation is demanding and that a contributing cause is the large influx of migration cases to the court in recent years. In the decisions, the court is criticised for taking a year and a half to process a case regarding annuity and for taking a year and five months to process a case concerning sickness benefits. Matters concerning annuities and sickness benefits are often of vital importance to the individual’s finances, and processing times of this magnitude are unacceptable.

The third of the examined cases was a migration case regarding a residence permit and expulsion. According to the law, such cases must be expeditiously processed. Nevertheless, it took one year and three months for the court to process the case. On its website, the court states that cases regarding residence permits for reasons of protection or asylum will currently take 17 to 21 months to process. The processing times for migration cases are thus long, far longer than what is acceptable.

Ultimately, the Riksdag and the Government are responsible for ensuring that our courts are able to fulfil their tasks and meet the requirements set out in Chapter 2, Section 11 of the Instrument of Government. I have therefore submitted copies of my three decisions to the National Courts Administration and the Ministry of Justice for information purposes.

The Enforcement Authority disburses money to the wrong person

The Enforcement Authority has experienced problems with the part of its operations that handles funds. I have criticised the authority on several occasions for disbursing funds to the wrong person. In this year, I have found reason to do so again. A person who needed the authority’s help to collect money from a debtor was informed that the authority had instead paid the money back to the debtor. The mistake was promptly discovered, but it took the authority five whole months to correct the mistake. It is surprising that the authority, despite criticisms on my part, over the years, still makes mistakes of this kind. This time, the authority received severe criticism (ref. no. 71-2018).

Chief Guardian Boards and Chief Guardians

A very important part of the welfare system is to provide help for people who, due to illness or functional impairments, cannot manage their own affairs. The system of guardians and administrators is largely based on voluntary efforts. At the same time, the work is demanding and entails high requirements on both knowledge and personal skills. The role of the Chief Guardian is therefore an important and difficult one.

Over the years, the Parliamentary Ombudsmen have, on several occasions, found reason to criticise Chief Guardians and Chief Guardian Boards. This year’s annual report contains an enquiry regarding the Chief Guardian Board in the Municipalities of Eskilstuna and Strängnäs, based on observations made during an inspection of Eskilstuna District Court (ref. no. 893-2018). During the inspection, I discovered a large number of guardianship cases were the management of the cases had dragged on. Essentially, the reason why the process took so long was due to difficulties when trying to find someone willing to act as a guardian or administrator. The board cannot be faulted for this, of course. However, the board is still criticised for the slow processing of these cases. In several cases, it took a remarkably long time for the board to take any measures, after receiving the district court order. The board’s processing also appears remarkably slow in other respects. Furthermore, the board is criticised because, in many cases, it did not contact the district court when the deadline of the district court order expired. It appears as if the board did not strive to have an effective cooperation with the district court.

Schools, universities and university colleges

Freedom of speech

Matters regarding freedom of speech often come up in complaints concerning schools. This year’s annual report includes a case regarding a banner on a “graduation float” (ref. no. 6852-2018). Translated, the banner read “#Metoo, for women who tried to sleep their way to the top but failed”. The school had ordered the students to take down the banner, which was reported to the Parliamentary Ombudsmen. The question was whether the school’s actions infringed on the freedom of speech. The investigation revealed that the text on the banner had caused an aggressive atmosphere around the group of students, and there were concerns regarding their safety. I therefore found that there was a concrete risk of the banner interfering with the order at the school, and I consequently made no objection to the school ordering the students to take down the banner.

Another decision on the freedom of speech concerns a preschool operation in the City of Gothenburg (ref. no. 3967-2018 and others). The city had advised preschool directors not to allow their staff to wear shirts with the text “Förskoleupproret” (the preschool revolt) or pins with the text “STOPP färre barn NU! Lärarförbundet Göteborg” (Fewer children NOW! Gothenburg teacher’s union). The reasons given by the city for this prohibition included that staff wearing the shirts or pins were communicating a political message, that it was an expression of discontent against their employer, and that the staff should be carrying out their tasks during working hours rather than participating in public opinion campaigns. According to the city, there was also a risk that the users felt imposed by the message, which could lead to parents not being comfortable leaving their children at the preschool.

I noted in my decision that the messages on the shirts and pins do not violate any law. The impression is that the messages constitute the private opinions of the staff. There is no investigation to indicate that the wearing of the pins and shirts had any negative impact on the activities. In light of this, I found that the city’s arguments to restrict employees’ clothing were not correct. The city received criticism.

Justification of decision

As a rule, an administrative decision must contain the grounds for arriving at a certain conclusion. The Administrative Procedure Act that was in force prior to 1 July 2018 included an exception for decisions concerning research grants. Such decisions were allowed to fully or partially omit the grounds of the decision. There is no such exception in the current Administrative Procedure Act (2017:900). According to that act, there must be justification in any decision that can be assumed to affect a person’s situation in a significant way, unless this is evidently unnecessary (Section 32).

This year’s annual report includes a case concerning a research grant decision (ref. no. 8358-2018). A person’s application was rejected without justification of the decision. This would have been correct if the decision had been issued prior to 1 July 2018, but the rejection was communicated after the new Administrative Procedure Act had come into force. This prompted criticism.

Agricultural subsidies

In May 2015, a person submitted an application for an agricultural subsidy to the County Administrative Board of Skåne. After three years, he still had not received a decision regarding the subsidy and therefore he handed in a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsmen. The Parliamentary Ombudsman requested a statement from the County Administrative Board, and found the reply surprising. The board wrote that it was waiting for a special type of IT support, and had therefore not made any decisions since 2015 in cases regarding agricultural subsidies ready for a decision. According to the statement, this matter concerned a little over 8,000 cases. I did not accept the board’s explanation. In my decision, I wrote that by not making decisions for several years, in cases that have been fully prepared, indicates a surprisingly indifferent attitude towards fundamental administrative rules. The County Administrative Board received severe criticism (ref. no. 6540-2018).

Inspection of the Rent and Tenancy Tribunal in Stockholm

The Rent and Tenancy Tribunal in Stockholm is tasked with mediating and resolving disputes concerning leases, rentals and tenant-owner’s rights. The tribunals fill an important function in society, and it is important that their activities are functional and effective. The Parliamentary Ombudsmen has not inspected a rent and tenancy tribunal for a long time, but in February 2019, my colleagues and I carried out an inspection of the Rent and Tenancy Tribunal in Stockholm. We noted that the tribunal is very busy and that the processing times are not consistent with the requirement for expeditious processing applicable to its activities. The long processing times are largely due to the great influx of cases, but we were also able to note that there was a need for review of the tribunal’s activities. The tribunal employees believe that there are problems, for example a lack of leadership, organisation, cooperation between groups, etc. The National Courts Administration has conducted an analysis of the tribunal’s activities and provided several proposed measures to remedy the tribunal’s problems. At the time of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s inspection, the tribunal informed us that it intended to restructure the organisation. During the inspection, I stated that such a review should include the organisation of the preparatory process, the division of labour between different officials as well as the procedures for section briefings.

Legislative referrals

During the year, I have been able to respond to a large number of legislative referrals. As in previous years, I have concentrated on answering the referrals that are connected to the central parts of my supervisory area. The statements I have made on referrals include the memorandum “New trial due to new information on the defendant’s age” (Ds 2018:19), the memorandum “Issues concerning child pornography offences and to the repeal of the statutory time limit on serious crimes against children” (Ds 2018:23), the report “Enforcement of permit decisions” (SOU 2018:86), the memorandum “Extended possibilities for the Migration Courts to transfer cases”, the report “Elimination of reduced sentences for young adults” (SOU 2018:85), the memorandum “Penal measures against unlawful appropriation and certain other offences” (Ds 2019:1), the report “Camera surveillance of public transport – a simplified procedure” (SOU 2019:8), the memorandum “Prohibiting the dissemination of images from court proceedings” (Ds 2019:10), a draft of a proposal to the Council on Legislation regarding special criminal liability for interaction with a terrorist organisation, and the memorandum “Increased preparedness for urgent decisions on appointments of public defenders”.

Updated 11/15/2019