Court of appeal (Norway)

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The court of appeal (Norwegian: lagmannsrett, lit. ‘lawman's court’) is the second level of courts of justice in Norway, reviewing criminal and civil cases appealed from the district courts. There are six courts of appeal, each covering a jurisdiction and based in a city. Each court is led by a senior judge president (lagman) and several appellate judges (lagdommer). The courts are administrated by the Norwegian National Courts Administration.[1] Decisions from civil and criminal matters, except the question of guilt, can be appealed from the courts of appeal to the Supreme Court.[1]

Criminal cases[edit]

In criminal cases where the crime is punishable by no more than six years in prison, the court consists of three professional judges and four lay judges; all seven have equal votes in the decisions. In order to convict, five of the seven judges must vote for conviction.[2] Even if the bench is reduced because of a recusal, the requirement for five guilty votes remains, as was the case in the trial of Atle Torbjørn Karlsvik, who was acquitted after four judges voted to convict, while two voted to acquit.[3]

Lay judges are members of the public without legal qualifications, that are appointed for periods of four years by the city and county councils. When a jury is appointed, fourteen regular and two deputy members are called, with the prosecution and defense able to remove up to two members.[1]

In criminal cases where more than six years of prison can be handed down, the court will have a jury of ten people deciding the guilt, as well as three professional judges who preside over the case and determine sentencing. In order to convict, at least seven of the jury members need to vote for conviction. The verdict of the jury is usually final, but can be overturned by the professional judges who then order a retrial. This happened in the NOKAS robbery case.[4]

The jury system has been under criticism because no reason is given for the verdict, and it has been proposed replacing it with a bench of three professional judges and six lay judges.[5] A majority in parliament support replacing the jury system, with Venstre the only party clearly in favor of keeping it.[6] The Supreme Court of Norway are also considering whether the jury system is in violation of a verdict from the European Court of Human Rights which found the Belgian system a violation of human rights. The reason was the possibility of being acquitted with a stated reason in a district court, and then convicted without any stated reason in the appellate court.[7]

The chief prosecutor in Norway, Tor-Aksel Busch, has been critical of the jury system, and pointed out the large number of acquittals in rape cases as a problem, since the acquittals are often based on victim blaming and sympathy with the defendant.[8]

Proponents of the jury system argue that it is the best way to keep the public's involvement in the court process and protect against wrongful convictions, and out of the hands of the judges. Defense attorneys like Sigurd Klomsæt[5] and Frode Sulland[9] have defended the jury system. Sulland argued that pointing to the acquittal rate in rape cases as an argument to abolish the jury, is tantamount to lowering the burden of proof.

Civil cases[edit]

In civil cases, the court will consists of three judicial judges, though two or four lay judges may be appointed in certain cases.


There are six courts of appeal:[10]

  • Agder, based in Skien, serves the counties of Aust-Agder, Telemark, Vest-Agder and Vestfold.
  • Borgarting, based in Oslo, serves the counties of Oslo, Buskerud, Østfold and southern Akershus.
  • Eidsivating, based in Hamar, serves the counties of Hedmark, Oppland and northern Akershus.
  • Frostating, based in Trondheim, serves the counties of Møre og Romsdal, Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelag.
  • Gulating, based in Bergen, serves the counties of Hordaland, Rogaland and Sogn og Fjordane.
  • Hålogaland, based in Tromsø, serves the counties of Finnmark, Nordland and Troms.


The court system in Norway dates back to about 950, when the things were created as assembly of the great farmers to set laws and convict people of breaching them. These main things were Borgarting, Eidsivating, Gulating and Frostating, but many smaller ones existed, and courts could be raised in any, or even multiple things, creating a fog of legal doubt in cases of disagreements. From about 1300 King Håkon V allowed cases to be appealed directly to the king, for final decision. District courts were established transitionally from the old things to bygdeting, consisting of six or twelve lay judges (lagrettemann) appointed by the king. In 1539, with the removal of the Norwegian Riksråd, a system of herredag was introduced each ten, later three, years. It acted as court of appeal for peasants, and first instance for the nobility. These things met in Oslo, Skien, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim; from 1625 only in Oslo and Bergen.[11]

A system of courts with instances, so a case could be appealed, was introduced in 1607. At first there were four levels of court. The district courts remained, but cases could be appealed to appeal judges (lagmann). Further they could be appealed to the herredag, and at last to the king. In 1661, with the introduction of the absolute monarchy, a supreme court was created in Copenhagen, allowing a single and final decision to be made by one court. The following year the district courts were supplemented with the city courts, creating another level under the courts of appeal.[11] The courts of appeal lasted until 1797, when they were removed.[12]

In 1797 four high courts (overrett) were created, replacing the courts of appeal. These were located in Christiania (Oslo), Bergen, Kristiansand and Throndhjem. In 1890 they were reorganized and reduced to only three courts, with Kristiansand losing its seat.[11] The courts of appeal lasted until 1797, when they were removed.[13] At the same time the courts of appeal were reintroduced, and divided into five constitutions.[14]

The high courts remained until 1936, but were limited to only written procedure, while only oral procedure was permitted in the courts of appeal. In addition, the two levels had non-compatible jurisdictions, creating confusion and an unnecessary complexity. With the new system, the court of appeal became the second level for all civil cases, and lesser criminal cases, while they became the first level for serious criminal charges. This was changed in 1995 when all matters were to be handled by the district courts first. At the same time, the Eidsivating Court of Appeal was split in two, with Oppland, Hedmark and northern Akershus being administrated from Hamar and taking the name, while the Oslo office took the new name Borgarting.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Lagmannsrettene" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  2. ^ See e.g. information on criminal cases from Moss tingrett (section "Dommen") (Norwegian)
  3. ^ Karlsvik frikjent VG, February 29, 2008 (Norwegian)
  4. ^ - Tilsidesettelse av frifinnelse er bittert for forsvarerne VG January 19, 2007 (Norwegian)
  5. ^ a b Slutt på gammel juryordning Aftenposten December 31, 2008 (Norwegian)
  6. ^ Stortingsflertall mot juryordningen NRK, December 28, 2008 (Norwegian)
  7. ^ Juryordningen kan være i strid med EMD Stavangeravisen February 27, 2009 (Norwegian)
  8. ^ - Juryordningen uheldig for voldtektsofre VG March 15, 2007 (Norwegian)
  9. ^ Behold juryen! Letter by Frode Sulland in Dagbladet August 25, 2008 (Norwegian)
  10. ^ Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Lagmannsrettene". Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  11. ^ a b c Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Vårt første instanssystem-1607". Lagmannsrettene. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  12. ^ Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Lagting og lagsogn frem til 1797" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  13. ^ Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Stiftsoverrett og overrett 1797-1936" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  14. ^ Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Lagmannsretten 1890-1936" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  15. ^ Norwegian National Courts Administration. "Lagmannsretten av 1936" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-10-11.