Independence of the Courts
Independence of the Courts
The independence of the Courts of Justice protects all citizens against arbitrary decisions and abuses committed by other branches of state power, This independence is a consequence of Norway being a constitutional democracy. The Constitution sets clear limits on legislative and executive power even when decisions are carried by a majority vote.
Control of the other branches of state power
The Courts of Justice exert a control function regarding new laws and changes to existing laws that are proposed by the National Assembly. If a law is against the Constitution by, for example, violating the constitutional rights of one or many citizens, a court may set aside the law in any trial where such rights are deemed to have been violated. In a case brought before the Supreme Court where two or more judges deem that a specific law breaks the constitutionthe case is settled in a plenary meeting of the Supreme Court. This may result in the Supreme Court setting aside the law in question in the settlement of the case.This implies that the Supreme Court through its rulings can control or limit the legislative power of the National Assembly. This control or limitation by the Supreme Court has only occurred on very rare occassions.
In concrete cases the Courts of Justice also have the authority to check on decisions made by the government or other subordinate administrative bodies. In such cases the Courts of Justice will decide whether the administration has remained within the framework of the law, whether the resolution is based on accepted facts and correct proceedure, and that the administration's judgement is not improper or seriously unreasonable. If such errors have occurred, an administrative pronouncement can be ruled invalid by the Courts of Justice. However, it should be noted that such a ruling can only occur in response to an actual dispute brought before a court.
How independence is guaranteed
According to our Constitution judges' decisions in each and every case are to be independent of external influence. Judges' verdicts cannot be instructed or influenced. The decisions of the Supreme Court cannot be rejected or altered by other authorities.
Over the last few decades the situation has changed somewhat. The influence of international courts of justice has grown, especially regarding the international conventions on human rights. Amongst others, the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg plays an important role in the development of law and jurisdiction in Norway. When, in future, the Court of Human Rights interpretes the convention differently from the Supreme Court the Norwegian Supreme Court must act in accordance with the guidelines and rulings made in Strasbourg. So even though the Supreme Court is the 'last instance', the Supreme is obliged to take into consideration the decisions of the Court of Human Rights.
A verdict can only be altered by a superior court of justice after an appeal proceedure. In criminal cases the usual deadline for appeal is 14 days after the verdict is handed down. In civil cases the deadline is one month. A superior court on its own initiative cannot instruct a subordinate court on its proceedings in any one specific case. However, if one party makes an appeal or an interlocutory appeal against a verdict, the court of justice processing the appeal may rule that the subordinate court must process the case again. The subordinate court must then abide by the interpretation of the law which constitutes the basis for the superior court's ruling.
The National Assembly (Stortinget) passes general laws which the Courts of Justice apply in all cases heard in court. The Courts of Justice are independent in their interpretation of the law. This means that the courts, headed by the Supreme Court, have a a great influence on how the letter of each law is applied in each individual case. Furthermore, there exists large areas of the law wherecourt rulings and interpretations have developed or evolved contemporary law and jurisdiction.
The Courts of Justice and all judges must be protected from external influence over rulings and verdicts. For a state to be democratic and legal the judges must be both independent and impartial with regards disputing parties and all interests represented by such parties. The parties in a case may request a judge to step down if the judge in question has any connection with the case or the individual parties which might raise doubts over the impartiality or independence of the process. Judges have a personal responsibility to ensure that they do not give grounds for disqualification in any individual case.
Although the independence of the courts is guaranteed by the Constitution, all courts are not insulated from democratic developments insociety.The National Assembly passes regulations relating to the organisation of the courts, for example: how many courts shall be provided throughout the nation, where they shall be situated, the number of presiding judges for each court and the proceedure for appointing judges. All of the latter are practical matters reflecting the ever changing developments in society. The Courts of Justice are administratively subordinate to the independant National Court Administration (NCA).
Judges cannot be dismissed
Judges appointed according to the constitutional regulations have, like other civil servants, an especially protected employment status according to § 22 of the Constitution. They hold permanent positions and cannot be dismissed or moved against their will. They can only be dismissed following a court hearing and a verdict of guilty. Permanently appointed judges can be suspended, but such a decision can only be carried out by the King in cabinet. Civil or criminal proceedings to remove a judge must be started immediately following the King's decision to suspend a judge. Like other civil servants permanent judges can be punished for breaking the law while carrying out their duties or for offences committed outside their workplace. However, the decision about whether to prosecute for offences relating to a judge's duties may only be taken by the King in cabinet. Permanently appointed judges cannot be indicted for public order offences according to the regulations for all civil servants. Supreme Court judges enjoy even stronger protection and can only be removed through an impeachment process.
Judges are guaranteed protection of office to enable them to make rulings and give verdicts that may be unpopular, judges have to be free of the fear of dismissal because their decisions are not supported by the authorities or by other judges. By granting judges such a secure position, all parties appearing in court are ensured an independent and impartial ruling from the Courts of Justice.
The Courts must have the people's confidence
The decisions of judges often have great significance for many individual citizens. It is a vital requirement in a state governed by law that all the citizens of that state respect a court's ruling as well as the laws on which such rulings are based. The courts need the trust of the people in order to maintain their authority and legitimacy. It is the legitimacy and the authority of a court which ensures that rulings are respected. The credibility of the courts must not be weakened by the perception that courts can be influenced by any external pressure.
In order for the courts to be able perform in a free and independent manner it is necessary that they have sufficient professional and economic resources to be able to fulfil their tasks.
Both the costs and the duration of court proceedings can have a negative effect on whether an ordinary citizen will take their case to court. An efficient rather than a long drawn out processing of cases is itself a guarantee of legal protection. "Justice delayed is justice denied". The issue of reducing the duration of case processing has received a great deal of attention in recent years in Norway. Norwegian courts are now among the most efficient in Europe in this context.