The court system
The court system in Norway has a pyramid structure.
The lowest level in the pyramid is called a district court.
Courts of appeal
The next level is a court of appeal. A court of appeal is an appeal body. This means that a court of appeal decides the outcome of appeals regarding judgements from district courts. Both the defendant and the prosecuting authority can appeal a case to a court of appeal. They can do this both if they believe the punishment is too strict or too lenient, or if they believe the question of guilt has not been correctly decided.
The Supreme Court
The top level of the pyramid is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the appeal body for courts of appeal. Judgements by the Supreme Court cannot be appealed further. Judgements by the Supreme Court are final. This means that they are legally enforceable.
In both district courts and courts of appeal it is the judges who determine questions of guilt and punishment. Judges can be professional judges, co-judges, or lay judges.
Professional judges are lawyers. Co-judges and lay judges are ordinary people who are appointed to the position. In serious cases a court of appeal will sit with a jury of 10 civilian members. This jury consists of five women and five men. The jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not. It is an important principle in the Norwegian legal system that questions of guilt must be determined by a defendant’s peers.
Counsel for the defence
A defendant is entitled to have a lawyer appointed to defend him or her. A defendant must come to the court and explain himself or herself.
Counsel for the prosecution
The case’s prosecutor presents the charges depending on which violations of the law have allegedly been committed. The prosecutor also proposes the punishment.
There are many different types of legal sanction. These are the most common:
Waiver of prosecution
A waiver of prosecution means that the offender is let off with a caution, though this is recorded in the police’s National Register of Convictions.
A fine means that one is offered an opportunity to pay a fine without facing a court case. Fines are often used in connection with, for example, less serious violations of traffic regulations. A fine is an amount of money which is paid to the state.
Suspended prison sentence
A suspended prison sentence means that the offender does not have to serve a prison sentence subject to certain conditions. If the person commits a new violation of the law within two years, he or she must serve both the old sentence and any new sentence.
Immediate prison sentence
An immediate prison sentence means that the sentenced person must serve a prison sentence. The strictest prison sentence in Norway is 21 years and can be used in cases of intentional murder or serious drug-related crimes. People serving a prison sentence are usually released on parole after serving 2/3 of their sentence.
Preventative detention in an institution
Preventative detention in an institution is a legal sanction that is used to protect society. In order for a person to be sentenced to preventative detention, the sentenced person must be acknowledged to have been “insane at the time the act was committed”, or be permanently mentally ill or have underdeveloped or permanently impaired mental faculties. There must also be a risk of the sentenced person committing new offences.
Community service can be utilised instead of a prison sentence when the sentence given is up to a one year suspended prison sentence. A one month prison sentence is equivalent to 30 hours community service at weekends or in the person’s free time.
You can read more about the legal system on the Courts of Norway’s website and on the Norway.no website.
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