A main rule for the administration of justice in Norway is that the public, and therefore the press, has free admission to attend court hearings. This is to ensure a fair and secure administration of justice which encourages criticism and the possibility of control. It also keeps the general public well informed about the legal system and its application.
Openness in conjunction with information about the activities of the courts of justice encourages trust in the administration of justice.
The role of the press
Legal protection of the individual citizen is an important concern for the Courts of Justice. The press has an important role to play to ensure that the legal protection of each individual citizen is maintained. Its role as mediator and supervisor has given the press the task of representing each and every ordinary citizen in the courts of law.
Exceptions from publicity
However, there are a number of exceptions to the principle of the right of admission for any member of the public to a court session. The right can be set aside in order to provide legal protection for an offender, the plaintiff or a witness. It can be set aside out of a concern for an efficient and correct proceedure, for national security reasons and for privacy reasons. The latter is very important in sexual offenses when the victim is a minor. In some cases the exclusion of the general public is dictated by the law. In other cases the law states that the court can assess the need to exclude the public. Serious grounds must be shown for a court to decide to hear a case behind closed doors.
When a case is heard behind closed doors only those involved in the proceedings are admitted. However, certain observers may be admitted on special grounds; for example the press may be admitted, after due consideration, to a case otherwise proceeding behind closed doors. In practice there are usually no reporting restrictions on main hearings in civil and criminal cases. Even when there are reporting restrictions this does not imply a complete ban on informing the public about the case.
There is a prohibition on reporting court hearings which are not main hearings in criminal cases (for example court hearings concerning custodial imprisonment). Reporting is banned during the interrogation of the parties before the main hearing in civil disputes, this also applies in certain libel and defamation cases and in cases between marital partners as well as cases involving child welfare and protection.
In cases of great sensitivity such as sexual offences involving children, anonymity is the rule in all public reporting. It has also been a principle among the press that the identity of victims and/or the defendant is only disclosed in special circumstances for specific reasons.
Access to court decisions
Most decisions of the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal are published by Lovdata. (www.lovdata.no).