The Breivik lawsuit: a victory for Norway’s justice system
Maren Sofie Schmidt Christensen & Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
Anders Behring Breivik won parts of his lawsuit against the Norwegian state on April 20. We consider this a victory for the Norwegian Justice System (Rettsstaten) despite various public reactions that emerged this past week. Many disagree with the court’s decision, but we believe that the Oslo District Court has treated the case fairly by not singling out an individual for special punishment. The Norwegian justice system has shown that safeguarding human rights is more important than individual judgment.
The state is the most fair government body in Norway when it comes to safeguarding human rights; in this instance the state focused on the legal case and not the criminal. All people are treated equally before the law in any court case, no matter how grave the crime was.
Breivik claimed at the hearing in March that his almost five-year isolation confinement is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Oslo District Court agreed, in that the conditions, including games consoles, workout machines, and three cells at his disposal for his various activities, violated his rights under Article 3, reported AFP.
But what does isolation mean in Norway? First off, partial isolation means that the accused cannot have contact with other inmates. There might be other inmates in the same isolation area, but they cannot interact or communicate with each other, and this is done for the sake of ongoing investigations. Upon complete isolation the accused is excluded from communion with all other inmates. There are strict rules for the use of isolation, and the intended length of isolation is restricted as much as possible. Currently, Breivik spends 23 hours out of the day in his three cells but gets to spend one hour outside in the prison yard.
Many Americans have argued that Breivik should have received capital punishment, but in Norway we do not believe in such retributive justice. The state does not have the right to take a life because of an individual’s actions. Those convicted have to live with their crimes and serve their sentence.
The Norwegian system is not a retributive justice system but rather focuses on rehabilitation. For example, if someone commits a crime and serves time in jail for three years, they can get educated, receive health and mental health care, and take part in conversation groups. This is because in Norway, the focus is on rehabilitating the individual into a full member of society upon their release. When comparing the Norwegian system to that of the U.S., it is clear that there is a higher success rate within restorative justice systems. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, in the U.S. property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82.1 percent of released property offenders arrested for a new crime compared with 76.9 percent of drug offenders, 73.6 percent of public order offenders, and 71.3 percent of violent offenders. In contrast, recidivism in Norway ranges between 10 and 55 percent depending on variables, definition of range goals, and follow-up period. Following these trends, we argue that this method is very effective and we have faith in our justice system.
Personally, we do not defend Breivik’s actions or claim that he should receive special treatment (he already is); rather we are making a case in support of the decision made by our court. Breivik is receiving special treatment in terms of having three cells, access to games consoles, workout machines, etc., which is unusual. Normally, prisoners are not kept in isolation for an extended period of time. He has three cells because he is not allowed to interact with other inmates and he will stay in isolation for far longer than anyone else. Keeping him in isolation protects him, other prisoners, and society, and also hinders communications between him and supporters who may be incited to commit similar crimes. The special treatment is given to him in order to compensate for his unconventional conditions. It is rare that prisoners in isolation accuse the state of inhumane treatment because it generally is a short-term solution.
In conclusion, we believe that the court made the right decision in upholding Norwegian values such as equality, democracy, and human rights (even for terrorists).
- Durose, Matthew R., Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, April 2014, NCJ 244205.
- Oslo District Court, “Prison and Detention,” Norway’s Court, 2013, www.domstol.no/nn-NO/Enkelt-domstol/Oslo–tingrett/Oppgaver-i-tingretten/Straffesak/Fengsel-og-varetekt.
- Synøve N. Andersen, Torbjørn Skarðhamar, “Tilbakefall til kriminalitet: Å måle gjentatt kriminalitet—hvem, hva og når?”, Statistics Norway, June 2013, ssb.no/sosiale-forhold-og-kriminalitet/artikler-og-publikasjoner/aa-maale-gjentatt-kriminalitet-hvem-hva-og-naar.
Maren Sofie Schmidt Christensen (22) is a Norwegian exchange student at Pacific Lutheran University, studying International Communications. She is originally from Moss and has been politically active in Workers’ Youth League (AUF) since 2010 and is generally interested in politics. She loves downhill skiing! Lindsey Vonn is her spirit animal.
Linn Chloe Hagstrøm (23) is from Bergen, Norway, and is currently part of the editorial team at the Norwegian American. She graduated with a double BA in Anthropology and Global Studies from Pacific Lutheran University in 2015. Her hobbies include volleyball, piano, and walking the dog.
This article originally appeared in the April 29, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.