A decision by officials in Sweden to remove a well-known human-rights lawyer from a child-custody case is being called a “stunning display of bureaucratic indifference and contempt of due-process rights.”
The declaration comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association in the case of Christer and Annie Johansson, whose son, Dominic, now 9, was taken forcibly by police last year because he was being homeschooled.
Dominic has been in state social-services custody since then, allowed supervised visits with his parents for about one hour every five weeks.
It was just a week ago when Ruby Harrold-Claesson, the president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights and a well-known advocate for families in custody disputes with social-services agencies, confirmed she was appealing a court decision to remove her from the case.
Christer Johansson told WND via e-mail he found out about the sudden change when a new lawyer chosen by the court called to introduce himself and tell him he should do what social-services agents were demanding.
“So I said, ‘Hold on a little, where is my lawyer Ruby?’ He said she was removed from the case by the court [be]cause our son’s lawyer made a complaint against her.”
The move, however, pushes Sweden close to the same league for violating parental rights as Germany, according to the HSLDA, which noted officials are considering a move that would allow homeschooling only under “extraordinary” circumstances.
“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,” said Mike Donnelly, the organization’s staff attorney and director of international affairs.
He explained Harrold-Claesson, who had been assigned to the Johansson family by the court, was removed a short time after she tried to visit the school where social-services agents have left Domenic.
HSLDA reported that 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.”
“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.”
According to HSLDA, even the Swedish Lawyers Guild is raising alarm over the system that efficiently removes children from families on the word of social-services agents.
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.”
Hollander said an attorney’s loyalty needs to be with the clients, not the courts.
An HSLDA website statement said, “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 Gotland 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.”
Jonas Himmelstrand, president of the National Homeschoolers Association of Sweden, told HSLDA, “What the Swedish authorities have done to this family is wrong.”
The conflict developed because Dominic’s parents had been in a dispute with local government officials over their plans to homeschool him as the family prepared to move last year to India, Annie’s home country.
Police, with instructions from social services, on June 25, 2009, boarded a jet preparing to depart on an international flight to India to take Dominic into custody.
Annie and Dominic Johansson
Court officials had picked one of the locally known attorneys to represent the family, but Christer rejected him out of hand. Then, in a move that surprised family advocates, Harrold-Claesson was appointed to work with the Johanssons.
According to a website built to support the family, the head of Sweden’s Department of Children and Education, Lena Celion, wrote that it was “for the boy’s sake” that agents forcibly and without a warrant took him from his family, placed him with a foster family and enrolled him in a government school.
“Whose child is Dominic? Is he the child of Annie and Christer Johansson, or is he the child of Gotland Municipality?” the website questions.
“For ‘the boy’s sake’ Swedish social services ripped a happy, healthy and cherished child from the arms of loving parents. Why? To force him to sit daily in a building behind a desk in a Swedish school when just a few short months later he would have been doing the very same thing in Indian public schools, less the trauma caused by what has been almost an entire year separated from his parents. With rights like these, we think children would be better off with no rights at all!”
The website said it is not advocating an abandonment of protective services for children.
“We support the work of child protective services in their mission to serve children who are truly abused and neglected. When child services works to protect children who are truly in need, the organization is serving the community in the capacity in which the people had intended,” the site states.
“However, when child protective services removes children from families simply because the family does not meet an arbitrary threshold based upon opinion, and having nothing whatever to do with substantiated abuse or neglect, it is then child services has lost its way and no longer provides a vital service to the community.”
WND reported last month when social-services agents swooped down on an elementary school to grab Dominic and take him out of class so he would not meet Harrold-Claesson.
Gustaf Hofstedt, president of the local social-services board, told WND by telephone from Sweden at the time that there is more to the dispute than homeschooling, but he refused to explain.
“I understand the public debate has been that this is a case that is only concerning the fact of homeschooling,” he told WND. “But that is not the case.”
Asked to explain, he said, “I can’t answer that question because of secrecy.”
The HSLDA documented that the child was removed “without a warrant or reasonable cause to believe that he was being harmed.”
“Their reasoning? Dominic was being homeschooled, which is permitted by Swedish law, and his parents had also legally opted out of giving him standard vaccinations,” the group said.