Norwegian Judicial System

Norwegian Judicial System

1. Administration.

At the top of the judicial hierarchy is the
Supreme Court (Hoyesterett), located in Oslo.
Directly below the Supreme Court is the High Court
(Lagmannsrett). There are 5 High Courts, each
covering a separate but parallel territorial
jurisdiction in Eidsivating, Agder, Gulating,
Frostating and H�logaland. Below the High Court
are the District and City Courts (Herredsrett and
Byrett), which function ordinarily as the courts
of first instance. There are 98 District and City
Courts. (Kriminalitet og rettsvesen, 1992: 72-73).
The majority of criminal matters are settled
summarily in the forh�rsrett. In 1990, for example,
35,200 criminal matters went to the District and
City Courts, of which two-thirds, or 23,800, were
settled in the forh�rsrett. Also in 1990, less than
2% of all criminal matters were handled by the High
Court at first instance. (Kriminalitet og
rettsvesen, 1992: 74).

2. Special courts.

The majority of special courts which have
been established hear only particular kinds of
civil matters. For instance, there is a Court of
Impeachment (Riksretten) to hear criminal charges
brought against government ministers, members of
parliament and Supreme Court judges, although it
is rarely used. (Administration of Justice in
Norway, 1980: 88).
There is also the Court Martial which hears
criminal charges on members of the military
(Krigsretten). This court is made up of one
professional judge and 2 military lay judges.
(Administration of Justice in Norway, 1980: 83).

3. Judges.

*Number of judges. The Supreme Court is served by
a Chief Justice (Justitiarius) and 17 judges.
Attached to the High Court are 84 judges
(lagdommere), while 238 judges (embetsdommere) and
156 deputy judges (dommerfullmektiger) are
employed at the District and City Courts.
(Kriminalitet og rettsvesen, 1992: 72-73).

*Appointment and qualifications. All judges are
appointed by the King in Council upon the
recommendation of the Ministry of Justice. To be
appointed, judges must be Norwegian citizens,
financially solvent, and have achieved high
university grades when studying for their law
degree. Jurists from all professional backgrounds
can be appointed as judges. There is no formal
system of promotion through the court hierarchy.
Deputy judges tend to be relatively young and
often have just graduated law school.
(Administration of Justice in Norway, 1980: 89).
Lay judges can participate in the hearing of
cases. Usually one professional judge and two lay
judges hear criminal cases at the District and
City Courts. Amendments to the CPA in 1993 have
made it possible for more serious cases to be
heard at first instance by two professional and
three lay judges. Previously, these cases went
straight to the High Court for a first instance
hearing. (Criminal Procedures Act, new as amended,
Sect. 276, 1993).


1. Sentencing process.

*Who determines the sentence? Sentences issued by
the courts of first instance (District and City
Courts) are determined by a collegium of two lay
judges and one professional judge. However, 1993
amendments to the Criminal Procedures Act make it
possible for this collegium to be expanded to
three lay judges and two professional judges for
more serious cases. The 1993 amendments also
provide that sentences issued by the High Court
are to be determined by three professional and
four lay judges. (Lov om domstolene 13. august
1915 nr. 5). (Courts Act, cf Sect. 12,14; Criminal
Procedures Act, new as amended, Sect. 276, 332,
In cases tried by jury, sentences will be
determined by the professional judges, the jury
foreman and three jury members. Sentences issued
by the Supreme Court are always determined by
professional judges. If application of the law is
upheld, an appeal court cannot alter the sentence,
“unless it finds that the penalty is obviously
disproportionate to the criminal act committed.”
(Criminal Procedures Act, new as amended, Sect.
344,376e, 1993).

*Is there a special sentencing hearing?
Information not available.

*Which persons have input into the sentencing
process? Courts and the prosecuting authority can
order that a social inquiry on the charged person
be conducted in order to assist them in
determining an appropriate penalty. (Criminal
Procedures Act, Chapter 13). There is also
provision for the appointment of various experts
to serve either in the capacity of witnesses or in
the capacity of lay judges. (Criminal Procedures
Act, Chapter 11; Criminal Procedures Act, new as
amended, Sect. 277,332, 1993).

2. Types of penalties.

*Range of penalties. The main types of penalties
for criminal actions are imprisonment, social
service, and fines. The maximum prison sentence
is 21 years, of which approximately one such
sentence is imposed each year. Crimes that are
punished by imprisonment of up to 21 years include
murder, rape and serious drug offenses.
(Kriminalitet og rettsvesen, 1992: 58; Penal Code,
Sect. 15; Penal Code, proposed new, Sect. 40).
Offenders can also receive a suspended prison
sentence (betinget dom). Suspended prison
sentences are usually given to young and/or
first-time offenders for lesser crimes. In 1990,
1 in 3 felonies was punished with a suspended
prison sentences, either alone or in addition to
payment of fines. (Kriminalitet og rettsvesen,
1992: 58).
Community service involves an offender doing
unpaid community work for a set time period, with
a maximum of 360 hours. It is usually imposed for
crimes which can be punished by up to 1 year in
prison. It can be combined with payment of fines
and, in special circumstances, with a short period
of imprisonment. A subsidiary term of
imprisonment (subsidioer fengselsstraff) is
usually fixed at the same time that a penalty
involving community service and/or payment of a
fine is imposed. The subsidiary term of
imprisonment takes effect if the community service
is not carried out satisfactorily or the fine is
not paid. (Penal Code, Sect. 28,28a-28c; Penal
Code, proposed new, Sect. 40,53,57,61).
Another type of penalty is detention (hefte),
a form of custodia honesta rarely applied and
dropped in the proposed new Penal Code. However,
the proposed Code retains the penalty of
preventive detention (forvaring). Persons who
have repeatedly committed felonies of a serious
nature and whom a court suspects will commit such
crimes once released from prison can be held back
in preventive detention. Other penalties which
are retained in the proposed new Code include:
forfeiture of public and/or private office; loss
of the right to vote and to engage in certain
enterprises; and prohibition from entering or
staying in certain areas. (Penal Code, Sect.
29-33; Penal Code, proposed new, Chapter 9,10).

*Death penalty. There is no death penalty.

Note: this work was completed in 1993


See Also

  • Criminal Justice
  • Legal System
  • Criminology
  • Norwegian 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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