Norwegian Criminal Justice System

Norwegian Criminal Justice System

This entry gives a general account of the overall criminal system and outline the political and legal structure and the history of the Norwegian criminal justice system to help account for the unique aspects that may help to bind the many parts of this criminal justice system together, and to show the extent to how this criminal justice system plays in the overall social control of Norway. The section on crime definitions and statistic provides some basis of “output” of the criminal justice bureaucracies of the country.


1. Political system.

Norway is a unified state in which
governmental power is divided between the
judiciary, executive and legislative branches,
each of which are mutually independent. The
executive branch is made up of the King and
members of the Cabinet.
Legislative power is vested in the national
parliament (Stortinget), which is composed of 157
members who are democratically elected on a
geographical basis. Although the parliament is
unicameral, it divides into two chambers (the
Lagting and Odelsting) for the purpose of passing
legislation. Both chambers must approve a bill
before it can be passed. The bill must also be
approved by the King sitting in council with the
Cabinet, although this is a mere formality. In
theory, the judiciary can exercise some influence
upon the legislative process since it has an
unwritten power to set aside any legislation it
finds to be unconstitutional. However, this power
is rarely exercised. (Administration of Justice in
Norway, 1980: 88).
For administrative and political purposes,
the country is divided into 19 counties (fylker)
and approximately 450 municipalities (kommuner).
While the various counties and municipalities are
responsible for running a large number of vital
welfare services, responsibility for organizing
and financing the criminal justice system lies
primarily with central government agencies, most
notably the Ministry of Justice and Police.

2. Legal system.

It is difficult to classify the Norwegian
legal system solely by reference to the various
ideal categories of legal systems which are
commonly cited. This is because the Norwegian
legal system has largely been set up on a national
level. The Norwegian system is most similar to
the legal systems of the other Nordic countries,
particularly those of Denmark and Sweden.
Norway does not have a general codification
of private or public law corresponding to the Code
Civil or B〉gerliches Gesetzbuch in civil law
countries. It instead has comprehensive statutes
codifying, among other things, central aspects of
the criminal law and the administration of
Norwegian courts do not attach the same
weight to judicial precedents as members of the
judiciary in common law countries traditionally
have done. Neither are Norwegian courts bound by
intricate rules concerning the admissibility of
evidence; the basic rule is that all evidence is
admissible. Court procedure is relatively
informal and simple, and there is a strong lay
influence in the judicial assessment of criminal
matters and, to a lesser extent, civil matters.
This lay influence is created through the use of
both a jury system and a system whereby lay judges
(without formal legal qualifications) sit with
professional judges in the hearing of cases.

3. History of the criminal justice system.

The roots of the Norwegian legal system can
be traced back more than 1,000 years to the
institution of the Allting. This was a public
gathering of yeomen, who convened to settle
disputes and make laws for the local district.
These types of meetings were in existence well
before the country was united as one kingdom under
King Harald Haarfagre in the late 9th century.
During the 10th century, there arose the
institution of the Lagting, which was a more
formal and less localized body exercising
legislative, judicial, and executive powers in
relation to a particular area. These bodies were
composed of appointed representatives of local
communities, officials of the King, and members of
the clergy.
In the late 13th century, under the direction
of King Magnus Lagabote (Magnus the Lawmender),
the regional laws created by the Lagting were
gathered together and codified under one national
law called the Landslov. The second major
codification of Norwegian law took place in 1687,
during the period when Norway was in union with,
and ruled by, Denmark. This codification was
initiated by the Danish King, Christian V. Upon
dissolution of the union with Denmark at the end
of the Napoleonic Wars, Norway adopted a
Constitution on May 17, 1814. Amongst other
things, the Constitution provided for the
establishment of a parliamentary democracy and a
constitutional monarchy.
Of particular relevance for the
administration of criminal justice are Articles
20, 96, 99, and 102 of the Constitution. Article
20 empowers the King to pardon criminals, while
Article 96 bans interrogation by torture and holds
that no one may be convicted “except according to
law”, or be punished “except after a court
judgement”. Article 99 states that no one “may be
taken into custody except in the cases determined
by law and in the manner prescribed by law”, and
Article 102 bans the searching of private homes
“except in criminal cases.” Another relevant
constitutional provision is Article 94, which
provides for the publication of “a new general
civil and criminal code.”
The first comprehensive penal code was
enacted in 1842. This was replaced by the General
Civil Penal Code of May 22, 1902. While this Code
is still in force, it is important to note that a
Criminal Law Commission was appointed in 1980 to
draft a new code. So far, work by the Commission
has resulted in several amendments to the existing
Code, plus a draft set of general provisions for
the proposed new code. The draft set of new
general provisions have not yet been sent out for
a general hearing. (Almindelig borgerlig
Straffelov 22. mai 1902 nr. 10; Ny straffelov –
alminnelig bestemmelser, 1992; Oie, 1993).
Special rules on judicial procedure for
criminal cases were first codified in statute form
in 1887. This statute was replaced by the Act on
Rules of Judicial Procedure in Penal Cases, which
entered into force on January 1, 1986. Several
important changes to this Act have been proposed
recently. The bulk of these amendments were
approved by Parliament on June 11, 1993 and
entered into force in 1994. They were not
expected to enter into force until 1994. (the “Criminal Procedure Act”;
To-instansbehandling, anke og juryordning i
straffesaker, 1992; Oie, 1993).
The Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Act are
the two main laws governing the civil
administration of criminal justice in Norway. The
military administration of criminal justice is
governed by two corresponding laws: the Military
Penal Code of 1902 (Militoer Straffelov 22. mai
1902 nr. 13) and Military Criminal Procedures Act
of 1900 (Lov om Rettergangsmaaden i militoere
Straffesager 29. mars 1900 nr. 2).


1. Classification of Crime.

*Legal classification. The Penal Code groups
criminal offenses into felonies (forbrytelser) and
misdemeanors (forseelser). The Criminal Law
Commission, set up to draft a new Penal Code, has
proposed the distinction between felonies and
misdemeanors be eventually dropped from criminal
law. (It is important to note that, unless
otherwise specified, all legal references in this
report are to laws as they existed on September 1,
1993. [Ny straffelov – alminnelige bestemmelser,
1992: 21]).
Felonies are, with some exceptions, offenses
with a maximum penalty exceeding 3 months’
imprisonment. The majority of felonies are defined
and listed in Part 2 of the Penal Code, such as
perjury, arson, racial discrimination, rape,
defaulting on obligation to support dependents,
slander and libel, larceny, embezzlement, damaging
information and communication systems, murder,
blackmail and robbery, fraud and breach of trust.
(Penal Code Sect. 2, 163- 165, 167, 148, 135a, 192,
219, 246-248, 257-260, 255-256, 151b, 233, 266-269,
Misdemeanors are generally minor offenses
carrying a maximum penalty of 3 months’
imprisonment. Examples of these types of offenses
are found in Part 3 of the Penal Code. All
breaches of the Road Traffic Act are defined as
misdemeanors irrespective of whether or not they
carry a maximum penalty of more than 3 months’
imprisonment. (Vegtrafikklov 18. juni 1965 nr. 4;
Penal Code, Sect. 31).

*Age of criminal responsibility. The minimum age
at which one can be held criminally liable is 15.
(Penal Code, Sect.46; Proposed new Penal Code,
Sect. 37).

*Drug offenses. Drug offenses are set out in
Sections 162 and 162a of the Penal Code and
Section 22 and 43 of the Medicinal Goods Act.
The drugs covered by these laws are listed in the
Narcotics Regulations issued by the Ministry of
Social Affairs (Forskrift om narkotika m.v. 30.
juni 1978 nr. 8). There are some 250 substances
listed; salts and derivatives of the listed
substances are also categorized as narcotics.

An ordinary drug offense pursuant to the Penal
Code involves the illegal manufacture, introduction,
acquisition, storage (as opposed to possession/
besittelse), or transfer of narcotics, and is
punished by a fine or imprisonment of up to 2
years. Imprisonment for a serious drug offense
(grov narkotikaforbrytelse) can be imposed for a
maximum of 10 years. (Lov om legemidler m.v. 20.
juni 1964 nr. 5; Penal Code, Sect. 162).
Whether or not a drug offense is judged as
serious (grov) depends on the type of drug
involved, its quantity and the nature of the
offense. If the quantity is “very significant”,
imprisonment will be imposed for a period of 3 to
15 years. In “particularly aggravating
circumstances” (soerdeles skjerpende
omstendigheter), an offender can be imprisoned for
up to 21 years. (Andenaes and Bratholm, 1991:
289-291; Penal Code, Sect. 162).
A similar hierarchy of sanctions is provided
for those who receive or make a profit from a drug
offense or who assist other persons in receiving
or making such a profit. A drug offense under the
Medicinal Goods Act is defined as the illegal
possession or use of narcotics, and the purchasing
of narcotics under false pretenses. (Penal Code,
Sect. 22, 43, 162a).
Note that, prima facie, the laws make no
distinction between different kinds of narcotics;
marihuana is treated the same as heroin or
cocaine. The use of drugs in sport is not
encompassed by the above laws. (Andenaes and
Bratholm, 1991: 288-289).

2. Crime statistics.

The following crime statistics cover offenses
reported to the police in 1991. The statistics
are based on information entered into the
country’s central crime registration system,
STRASAK, and on the results of questionnaires
completed by police districts which in 1991 were
not yet connected to STRASAK. Most of the
statistics are taken from Kriminalstatistikk
1991/Criminal Statistics 1991, published in 1993
by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The
definitions of the offenses upon which the
statistics are based are taken from provisions of
the Penal Code. The total number of reported
felonies for 1991 was 252,311. The total number of
reported misdemeanors was 99,066. (Criminal
Statistics 1991, 1993: 19).

*Murder. In 1991, there were 50 incidents of
murder reported to police. (Criminal Statistics
1991, 1993: 19).
A person is guilty of murder (drap) if he or
she intentionally “brings about” (forvolder) or
“assists in bringing about” (medvirker) the death
of another person. (Penal Code, Sect. 233).

*Rape. In 1991, 387 incidents of rape were
reported to the police. (Criminal Statistics 1991,
1993: 19).
A person is guilty of rape (voldtekt) if he
or she, either by using violence or making someone
fear for their life or health, forces someone, or
assists in forcing someone, to have “indecent
intercourse.” The concept of indecent intercourse
(utuktig omgang) includes but is not limited to
sexual intercourse involving penetration.
(Andenaes and Bratholm, 1991: 103; Penal Code,
Sect. 192).

*Larceny. In 1991, there were 177,071 incidents
of larceny reported to police, accounting for
70.2% of all reported felonies. Of the total
number of larcenies, 68,408 were cases of simple/
minor larceny (simpelt tyveri), 85,976 were cases
of serious/aggravated larceny grovt tyveri) and
22,697 were cases of motor-vehicle theft. Motor-
vehicle theft is defined in a self-explanatory
manner in Section 260 of the Penal Code. (Criminal Statistics 1991,
1993: 19).
A person is guilty of larceny if he or she
takes, or assists in taking, an object which, in
whole or in part, belongs to another person, with
the intention of making an unjustified gain
(vinning) for himself or herself or for others.
Whether the larceny is simple/minor or
serious/aggravated depends on a variety of
factors, including the value of the stolen goods,
whether or not the larceny took place on public
premises, and whether or not it involved burglary,
use of weapons, explosives or the like. (Penal
Code, Sect. 257-258).

*Serious drug offense. In 1991, there were 13,063
drug-related crimes reported to police, accounting
for 5.2% of all reported felonies. Of these,
there were 6,780 ordinary drug offenses and 588
serious drug offenses in relation to the Penal
Code, while 5,695 incidents constituted drug
offenses in relation to the Medicinal Goods Act.
The number of reported drug offenses has increased
five-fold during the last decade, and twenty-fold
since 1970. (Criminal Statistics 1991, 1993: 19;
Kriminalitet og rettsvesen, 1992: 25.

*Crime regions. Crime statistics for Norway show
that the rate of investigated felonies increases
with the rate of population density. This would
also appear to be the case with reported felonies.
(Kriminalitet og rettsvesen, 1992: 27).
In 1991, Oslo county had the highest rate of
investigated felonies, at 124 per 1,000
inhabitants. The counties of Vestfold,
Aust-Agder, Buskerud, Vest-Agder and Ostfold had
the next highest rates, with figures between 67
and 56 per 1,000 inhabitants. All of these
counties have approximately 75% of their
inhabitants living in developed (tettbygde) areas.
The counties with the lowest rates of investigated
felonies, Sogn-Fjordane (15 felonies per 1,000
inhabitants) and More-Romsdal (18 felonies per
1,000 inhabitants) have only approximately 50% of
their population living in developed areas. The
average rate of investigated felonies for the
country as a whole was 52 per 1,000 inhabitants.
(Criminal Statistics 1991, 1993: 24; Kriminalitet
og rettsvesen, 1992: 27).


*Extradition. All of the Nordic countries have
enacted national laws giving them mutual
extradition rights. (For Norway, see Act of
3 March 1961 on Extradition of Offenders to
Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden; for Sweden,
see Act of 5 June 1959 on Extradition of Criminal
Offenders to Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway;
for Denmark, see Act of 3 February 1960 on
Extradition of Legal Offenders to Finland, Iceland,
Norway and Sweden; for Finland, see Act of 3 June
1960 on Extradition of Criminal Offenders between
Finland and the other Nordic Countries.) Norway
also ratified the Council of Europe Convention of
December 13, 1957, giving it mutual extradition
rights in relation to Austria, Cyprus, Denmark,
Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland,
Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
and Turkey.
Bilateral extradition treaties have been
concluded with Australia (September 9, 1985),
Belgium (November 3, 1981), Estonia (April 3,
1930), Latvia (September 12, 1927) and the United
States (June 9, 1977).

*Exchange and transfer of prisoners. Norwegian
citizens or residents can serve prison sentences
that were imposed by the courts in other Nordic
countries in Norway, pursuant to Section 3 of the
Act of 1963 on Enforcement of Penal Sentences
Passed in the Nordic States. Citizens of the
other Nordic countries are also allowed to serve
Norwegian prison sentences in their respective
home countries (Sect. 5). There are also
corresponding provisions for serving suspended
prison sentences (Chapt 3) and for the supervision
of persons released on probation (Chapt 4). (Lov
om fullbyrding av nordiske dommer p� straff m.v.
15. november 1963)
Norway ratified the European Convention of
May 28, 1970 on the International Validity of
Criminal Judgements, and the European Convention
of March 21, 1983 on the Transfer of Sentenced
Persons. The provisions of these conventions are
implemented in the Act of 1991 on Transfer of
Sentenced Persons, which entered into force on
April 1, 1993. This Act provides a legal basis
for prisoner transfer arrangements with those
European countries which are party to the above
conventions. (Lov om overforing av domfelte 20.
juli 1991 nr. 67)

*Specified conditions. Conditions for the
extradition of foreign nationals from Norway are
set out in the Act of 1975 on the Extradition of
Offenders (Sect. 26 and 27). This Act does not
apply to extradition matters in relation to the
Nordic countries, nor does it override
international agreements entered into by Norway
prior to the Act’s entry into force. The Act also
provides a legal basis for the extradition of
foreigners to countries which have not signed an
extradition treaty with Norway. (Lov om utlevering
av lovbrytere m.v. 13. juni 1975 nr. 39).

Note: this work was completed in 1993


See Also

  • Criminal Justice
  • Legal System
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice System

Further Reading

  • Cole, George F., S. J. Frankowski, and M. G. Gertz, (1987) Major Criminal Justice Systems. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • David, R. and J. E. Brierley (1968) Major Legal Systems of the World Today. London: Free Press.
  • Fairchild, E. (1993), Comparative criminal justice systems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Feeley, Malcolm M. (1973), “Two models of the criminal justice system”. Law and Society Review, 7(3): 407-425.


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