Full bench trial
The lay judges are drawn for each case from a panel of people appointed by the local authority for four years at a time.
In criminal cases in which the sentence tariff is imprisonment for over six years, the court can be composed of a ‘reinforced bench’ - composed of two district judges and three lay judges.
The case will start with the prosecuting authority raising charges and sending the details and evidence to the District Court. The objective is to hear such cases as quickly as possible and the court therefore has to set a date for the main hearing within two weeks. See the video "Court is convened" on how a bench trial is conducted (16 minutes clip). Court is convened - part I. Court is convened - part II (youtube).
If the accused is entitled, the court will appoint defence counsel at public expense. Usually, the defence lawyer chosen by the accused will be appointed. The accused is always entitled to have a defence lawyer present when a case is heard, both during police interrogation and in court. If the accused chooses a defence lawyer resident outside the court district, the accused will usually have to pay any additional expenses incurred by the lawyer for travel and accommodation.
A court session at which a criminal case is heard is called the main hearing.
What happens during main hearing?
The usual procedure:
1. The court convenes (examination of the judge's impartiality and reading of charges)
2. Prosecution’s opening statement and preliminary remarks by defence counsel.
3. The accused's testimony
4. Testimony by the injured party and witnesses (if the injured party has retained counsel, their testimony can pre-empt that of the accused)
5. Review of exhibits (photographs, documents, objects)
6. Expert testimony
7. Final remarks by the prosecutor, defence counsel and counsel for the injured party.
8. Closing remarks by the accused (if any)
The case starts with the bench (professional and lay judges) entering the courtroom. Everyone present must rise when the judges enter. The actual court session starts when the district judge announces “The court is convened”.
During the main hearing, photography, sound and video recording are banned. If the media are present, they can film up until the point at which the judge declares the court is convened.
The district judge will start by presenting everyone involved in the case. He/she will then establish whether anyone believes the judges could be disqualified.
The district judge will maintain a record of all court proceedings. The accused will state his/her full name, address, job title, marital status and details of their earnings.
The charges will be read aloud, either by the district judge or the prosecutor. The accused will be asked whether he/she pleads guilty to the individual points of the charges.
Prosecution’s opening statement and preliminary remarks by defence counsel
The prosecution representative will give a brief outline of the case and the evidence to be presented in an opening statement. The prosecution can also present physical evidence in its opening statement in the form of photographs, documents or objects.
The prosecution has to give an objective presentation.
The defence counsel can make brief introductory remarks after the prosecution's statement.
The accused's testimony
The accused can give testimony if he/she wishes to do so. According to the law, he/she is not obliged to do so. The accused will be asked to tell the truth, but is the only person in court who cannot be punished for not doing so. The majority of accused usually opt to testify.
The presiding judge will normally address his/her first questions to the accused. The prosecution, defence counsel, counsel for the injured party and jurors can then interrogate the accused.
In some cases, the accused’s testimony is divided into two, as they may be asked how they plead initially. The question of sentencing can be postponed until all other witnesses to the plea have testified.
Testimony from the injured party and witnesses
In cases when the injured party has retained counsel, he/she will testify before the accused, see section 289 a of the Criminal Procedure Act.
Witnesses give their testimony after the accused.
They have to state their name, date of birth, address and job title. They also have to take an oath to swear that they will tell the truth. Witnesses have to stand when giving their testimony. The judge will ask: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? The witness will reply: “I do so on my honour and conscience”The prosecution or defence counsel who called the witness will start to ask questions. Counsel for the injured party, the judge and expert witnesses can also put questions to the witnesses. The accused cannot put questions directly to the witness. The accused can ask their defence counsel to ask questions on their behalf.
Review of other evidence (photographs, documents, objects)
All evidence that the prosecution and defence counsel believe are relevant to the court's judgement are presented and reviewed during the main hearing. Evidence such as photographs, documents and objects are called ‘physical evidence'.
Typical physical evidence is photographs from the scene of the crime, DNA analyses, forensic analyses, log extracts from mobile phones, police reports describing searches and confiscations, and medical reports describing injuries suffered by the injured party and the accused.
In cases where there is doubt about the accused's accountability at the time of the crime or when professional expertise is needed to assess particular problems, expert witnesses are used. They are usually appointed well in advance of the main hearing and will submit a written declaration prior to the hearing. Their declaration usually contains a provisional conclusion.
The expert witnesses will be present throughout the main hearing and can put questions to the accused and witnesses.
They present their testimony after all other witnesses have testified and all physical evidence has been presented. Expert witnesses have to explain their work prior to the main hearing, and the basis on which they have reached their conclusions in their written declaration. They also have to testify on whether the evidence presented during the main hearing has had any impact on the basis of their conclusion, and whether they will stick to their original conclusion in their written declaration.
Closing statements from prosecution, defence and counsel for the injured party
The main hearing is concluded by counsel for the prosecution, defence and the injured party each summarising the case. They will examine how they think the evidence ought to be interpreted and the outcome of the case they seek.
The prosecution will state the sentence they think appropriate if the accused is found guilty. If prosecuting counsel believes that the evidence is insufficient for sentencing, he/she must move that the accused should be found innocent. Defence counsel will move that the accused should be found innocent or given the least possible sentence.
Counsel for the injured party will focus heavily on the compensation claim made by the injured party in his/her closing statement.
All three counsels can be given the floor one final time before the presiding judge declares the proceedings closed and sentencing is to be passed.
Closing remarks by the accused (if any)
The accused has the right to make a statement once evidence has been presented. He/she can also make a closing comment before the court adjourns.
The judges will retire to consider their verdict. Only the judges are present, and their discussions are confidential.
All reasonable doubt concerning the evidence in a criminal case must be to the benefit of the accused. That means that the judges’ belief that something could have happened is not enough. The judges must be totally convinced to be able to find the accused guilty. The decision is usually made by majority vote, with each vote counted as equal.
If the judges believe that the accused is guilty, they also have to decide sentencing. Legal precedence has to be taken into account, and the judges will therefore take into account the recommended tariff set by the Supreme Court in similar cases. Sentencing is intended to be preventive - i.e. discourage the offender from breaking the law again. This is referred to as individual preventive consideration when sentencing. Sentencing must also have a preventive effect on others. This is referred to as general preventive consideration. The offender can be sentenced to a range of penal sanctions. Read more about common sanctions The case has to be judged on what the judges have learned during the main hearing. They cannot use any other knowledge they may have on the case, such as what may have been written in the media.
The district judge will pass sentence, which has to be signed by all the judges. It will then be read out to the accused in a court session the same day or the next, or announced in some other way.
What can appeals apply to?
Appeals can be lodged against District Court judgements with the Courts of Appeal. Both parties can appeal - the convicted party and the prosecution. The prosecution can also appeal to the benefit of the accused. Appeals have to be lodged within two weeks. The victim or injured party affected by a criminal act cannot appeal if they are dissatisfied with a District Court judgement. Neither can the next of kin.
Appeals can apply to:
evidence submitted to prove guilt
- application of the law
If an appeal applies to evidence submitted to prove guilt, the details must be clearly stated. This means that the court must consider whether the accused has done what he/she is accused of or not is addressed. The Court of Appeal has to consider all sides of a case, known as full appeal hearing. If the appeal concerns the case proceedings, you must describe the mistake you believe was made. Explaining why you believe the judgement is wrong will also be an advantage. If there is new evidence in the case, it should also be referred to.
Not all appeals are allowed
The Court of Appeal has to consider all appeals, but not all of them are allowed to proceed to a full hearing, see section 32 of the Criminal Procedure Act (link to lovdata.no). If the Court of Appeal rejects an appeal, it has to provide a written ruling explaining why an appeal could not be allowed.
If the case can lead to imprisonment for over six years, the Court of Appeal will not usually refuse to hear the case.
Appeals will not usually be allowed in cases when the prosecuting authority seeks a fine, confiscation or loss of driving licence and the court did not make judgement for any other penal sanction. The Court of Appeal can consent to hear such appeals when there are special reasons to do so.
In other cases, an appeal can be rejected when the Court of Appeal finds it obvious that it has no grounds to proceed. An appeal from the prosecuting authority that is not to the advantage of the accused can be rejected when the court believes it concerns minor issues.
Who lodges an appeal?
Your defence counsel can advise on whether to appeal or not, and can help write an appeal. You can also obtain help from the court, the prosecuting authority or prison staff. The appeal must be signed.