Monday, 25 July 2011

Tragedy in Norway: a very different legal system

(BBC - Profile of Norway)

Please see the official UK website of the Norwegian embassy.

The events of Friday 25th July 2011 in Norway - (at both Oslo and Utoya) - have shocked civilised people the world over and there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the actions of Anders Behring Breivik who is now held in custody by the Norwegian authorities.  The number of deaths was initially stated to be in the 80s but was later revised downwards to 76.  It appears that Breivik has denied criminal responsibility for his actions and is held on the basis of "terrorism."  (BBC - Profile of Norway)  It is reported that Breivik has claimed that there are further "cells" in Norway with similar plans and links to terrorism in the UK are also mentioned.  Naturally, such possibilities are not being entirely discounted though other reports suggest that Breivik acted alone.

The law in Norway stands in marked contrast to the common law system of England and Wales.  First, Norway has a formal constitution.  Secondly, the criminal law is
based on a Penal Code (Straffeloven) first adopted in 1902 though amended subsequently.  It is to the Code which the Norwegian courts would look when dealing with those charged with offences which, under the code, are classified as felonies or misdemeanours.  It was also interesting to note that the judge ordered a closed hearing when Breivik first appeared in court.  Here is yet another contrast to the common law's insistence on "open justice."

Norway was among the first nations in Europe to abolish the death penalty in time of peace and it was abolished in all circumstances in 1979.  There is no sentence of "life imprisonment" and the maximum sentence of imprisonment is 21 years though the Code provides for preventive detention up to 21 years and this can be extended by the courts in periods of up to 5 years.

Bergfrue - Norway's national flower
Felonies against Public safety are covered by Chapter 14 of the Code and it appears that Breivik is held under section 147a.  Chapter 22 covers felonies against another's life etc.

Norway's prison system is particularly humane and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been criticised for being so.  In 2008, The Guardian published "What are prisons in Norway really like."

Other links of interest:

Norwegian Bar Association


Appointment of Judges

For an excellent description of the Norwegian Court system and the judiciary (including the important role played by lay judges) see here.

Norwegian Law Schools: Oslo, Bergen, Tromso

Addendum 26th July: The Guardian - Breivik appears insane, says his lawyer 
Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Wordsworth - "Intimations of Immortality ..."

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