To follow is an overview of how a case is conducted from start to finish in the legal system. The menu on the left provides details of the various types of civil cases and other information.
What is a civil case?
A civil case is a dispute between two or more parties on who has the law on their side. For example: employment, family matters, property boundaries, money and cases against the public authorities.
The courts are society’s most important resolver of disputes. The parties involved must be prepared to accept the court's judgement, which cannot be appealed.
With the exception of child custody cases, most civil cases are conducted according to the rules of the Dispute Act (link to lovdata.no).
You have a duty to seek to resolve the dispute
One of the objectives of the dispute act is that most disputes should be resolved without having to use the courts. The act therefore applies a number of duties to the parties to a dispute. The party wishing to take legal proceedings has to give written warning to the opposing party before the case can be taken to court.
The warning must state the claim being made and the grounds for making it. It must also encourage the opposing party to consider the claim and the grounds. The recipient of the warning must respond to the claim and grounds within a reasonable period of time. If the recipient cannot agree with the claim in whole or part, he or she must provide a written defence and reply setting out his or her view. The duties of warning and defence and reply before referring to the courts are combined with a duty incumbent on both parties to state which important documents or other evidence they are aware of and which the opposing party cannot be expected to be aware of. They also have a duty to see whether it is possible to resolve the dispute with good will on both sides.
If the duties are not fulfilled
Even if one party fails to fulfil its duties before going to court, it does not mean that the courts can refuse to consider the case. On the other hand, failure to fulfil the duties can have consequences for allocation of case costs - the costs incurred for lawyers and court fees. The court’s own costs for the case have to be covered, and the obligation of having to pay them for the opposing party can depend on whether you have fulfilled your own duties.
If the dispute is not resolved - mediation by the Conciliation Board
If the parties cannot reach agreement themselves, it can be necessary to refer the case to the Conciliation Board. The party bringing the case is called the claimant. The claimant has to submit the claim to the Conciliation Board. Such claims are called conciliation claims. Once the claim is received, the Board will summon both parties to a court meeting with the objective of getting them to reach agreement on the matter. If they cannot agree, the Board can make a ruling on the case with the consent of both parties. If the case concerns an amount of less than NOK 125,000, the Board can give its ruling when only one of the parties requests it.
The Board can stop the proceedings if it becomes apparent that the case is not really suitable for its consideration. The case will be concluded by the Board whether or not it can or will give its ruling.
Which cases do not require hearing by the Conciliation Board?
Arbitration by the Conciliation Board can be avoided in cases where:
the amount disputed is over NOK 125,000
both parties have the assistance of a lawyer
- when mediation has been conducted out of court according to chapter 7 of the Dispute Act.
How can a case be referred to the District Court?
A ruling made by the Conciliation Board can be brought before the District Courts by issuing a pleading within one month. A pleading is a document filed with the court because a claimant wants to start civil proceedings. Both parties to a dispute can file a pleading. A case can also be brought before the District Court by pleading if the Conciliation Board can or will not consider the case any further. The same applies to cases that are exempt from consideration by the Conciliation Board.
Small claims process or main hearing?
Disputes can be roughly broken down according to their monetary value. If the value is less than NOK 125,000, the case will be heard according to the rules of the Small Claims Process.
If the value exceeds NOK 125,000, the case will be heard as a civil case with main hearing.
Civil case with main hearing - case preparation
If the claimant is represented by a lawyer, it will usually be the lawyer who files the pleading. The Dispute Act gives claimants with no lawyer the right to file a verbal pleading by personally attending the court. That right infers that the pleading will be issued in writing. Section 9-2 of the Dispute Act (link to the Dispute Act on lovdata.no) applies certain criteria to filing a pleading. The pleading must provide the grounds for a reasonable hearing of the case. The actual or legal grounds for the pleading must be formulated such that the defendant can understand them and prepare for the case. The pleading must contain the exact details of the claim the claimant seeks judgement for. ‘The claim’ is defined as the result a party wants the court to arrive at to conclude the case.
See form for filing a pleading and defence and reply (Word) that can be used by a self-represented claimant (representing themselves instead of using a lawyer).
Once the pleading has arrived at the court, the judge will check whether it fulfils the criteria of the act. If not, the case will be rejected. If it does, it will be forwarded to the defendant. The defendant will be given a date by which to respond, usually three weeks. If the defendant rejects the claim the claimant has made, he/she must say so in the defence and reply. If the defendant has no lawyer, he/she can make a verbal defence and reply by attending the court in person. In common with the pleading, the defence and reply should be concluded with a claim (counterclaim). If the defendant does not submit a defence and reply before the deadline given, the claimant can ask the court to rule in compliance with his/her claim. This is called judgement in absentia.
Once the claimant has submitted a defence and reply, the court will make a plan for considering the case once it has had discussions with the parties. The discussions must decide whether the case should be referred to court sponsored mediation and whether written submissions should be given. Other points considered are which evidence to submit, how it should be submitted, whether it needs inspection and whether expert witnesses are needed. A date must also be found for when the main hearing (court case) should start. This discussion can take place via telephone or video conference.
Evidence and claims submitted in advance
A basic principle of Norwegian law is that the parties must be aware of the claims and evidence that will be presented in court in advance. This helps the parties prepare their case as well as possible. In order to avoid any delay or postponement for main hearing in an ordinary process or court hearing for final consideration in a small claims process, the parties have to submit their claims and counterclaims well in advance of the court hearing. It is important that written evidence is presented at the stage of case preparation. Written evidence presented for the first time during the main hearing can be rejected, or cause the case to be postponed.
Conclusion of case preparation
Case preparation must be concluded two weeks before the main hearing unless the court decides otherwise. The court will usually require the parties to submit a final submission before case preparations are concluded. This is described in section 9-10 of the Dispute Act. Final submissions should ideally be no more than one page, and should give brief details of the claim, actual and legal grounds and the evidence the parties wish to present in the main hearing. Final submissions will usually be accompanied by proposals for a timescale for the main hearing.
How do main hearings take place?
Once case preparation is concluded, the next step will be for the case to be considered in the main hearing. These are usually conducted verbally. However, the parties and the judge can agree that the court’s judgement will be made on the basis of written proceedings or a combination of verbal and written.
Who attends the main hearing?
The parties, their lawyers and the judge attend the main hearing. In civil cases, the court usually consists of only one judge, the presiding judge. The parties can request that the court sits with lay judges. If special insight into a subject is necessary, the court can sit with two expert lay judges.
What happens during main hearing?
The judge also has a duty to advise the parties during the main hearing. This includes help to define their legal arguments and to formulate a claim. However, the parties themselves are responsible for collecting evidence and presenting their arguments.
The main hearing starts with the judge presenting him/herself, the parties and lawyers (if any). The judge will then summarise the claims the parties have submitted and the grounds to support them. This introduction from the judge is based on the final submissions of the parties. The parties can object if there is anything they believe is incorrect with the judges presentation of the case. The judge will also review the evidence to be presented.
The claimant's lawyer will then explain the case, the legal rules claimed and the evidence that will be presented. This initial speech will be concluded with a claim. The claim must describe what the claimant wants the judgement to be. The defendant's lawyer will then be invited to make an introduction before concluding with a counterclaim.
Before the parties take their turns to give evidence, they must give an oath that they will tell the truth. Evidence is given by their own lawyers interrogating them first, followed by cross-interrogation by the opposing party’s lawyer and finally by the judge. The judge will also be able to interject with individual questions.
Witnesses will then be called to give their evidence as part of the submission of evidence in the case. The defendant’s witnesses give their evidence first. The witnesses will usually have to give an oath that they will tell the truth. The claimant's lawyer and the judge can ask the witnesses questions. It is an advantage for self-represented parties to prepare their questions in advance and avoid long questions. Discussion with the witness should be avoided in favour of specific questions.
Other evidence can also be submitted (documents, objects etc.).
The lawyers will present final submissions. This is called the concluding speech. In their concluding speeches, the lawyers summarise the case as they see it, how the facts of the case should be perceived and which remedies are available according to the rules of law. Each party can take the opportunity to make short final remarks.
The judge will declare the proceedings concluded the parties will submit their statement of case costs and the case and judgement will be considered. Rules for assessment of case costs are in section 20-5 of the Dispute Act (lovdata.no)
Once judgement is ready
The judge will usually pronounce judgement within two weeks of concluding the court case. The judgement will be sent to the lawyers (counsel) who will notify their clients. The lawyers must confirm in writing that they have received the judgement.
If a party does not have a lawyer (is self-represented), they will hold the introduction and proceedings as stated above. See menu point "Conduct your own case"
Appeals in civil cases
A judgement given by a District Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal. The deadline for doing so is usually one month after judgement given by the District Court is made known to the parties. Appeals against a District Court judgements should be sent by your lawyer to the court that made the judgement or presented verbally to the District Court judge. The appeal should stipulate the errors you believe have been made. The District Court will ensure that the appeal is notified to the opposing party who will also be given a deadline to defend and reply. Once the reply has been received or the deadline expired, the case documents will be forwarded to the Court of Appeal.
Which cases can be appealed?
The size of the dispute determines whether an appeal can be lodged. If the object of the dispute has a value of less than NOK 125,000, the permission of the Court of Appeal is needed to proceed. By limiting access to appeal in this way, the risk of case costs being higher than the value in dispute is avoided. The Court of Appeal also has limited grounds on which to refuse an appeal if the Appeals Committee attached to the court clearly finds that the appeal should not be allowed. Who judges civil cases
Who judges Court of Appeal cases?
Civil cases in the Courts of Appeal are usually considered by three presiding judges. Lay judges are always required for certain types of case. The parties can request the inclusion of two lay judges in any type of case. When specialist knowledge of a case area is required, the court can appoint specialist lay judges. The lay judges pass judgement on equal footing with the law judges.
How does the main hearing take place in the Courts of Appeal?
The main hearing is very similar to that in the District Court.
Appeals to the Supreme Court
Anyone dissatisfied with a Court of Appeal judgement can appeal to the Supreme Court. Read more about case procedure in the Supreme Court on the court's website.