Lay judges are also referred to as jurors, a common term for a lay judge and member of a jury.
Lay judges play an important role in our justice system. There are no criteria applied to their professional background. But you must be able to speak and understand norwegian.
Lay judges are used when the accused is to be “judged by his peers”. The local authorities decide who to select as jurors. If you are wondering whether the court in your district needs lay judges, contact your local authority.
When are lay judges used?
Lay judges take part in criminal cases in District Courts, in cases in which the question of guilt has to be decided in Courts of Appeal and in cases when sentences for serious crimes are given in other cases. Jurors can also be used in certain civil cases. Expert lay judges are also used in some cases to give the court special insight into areas such as psychology, finances and the construction industry. Jurors are not used in the Supreme Court in any kind of case. A juror is obliged to attend an average of two court cases per year, but this can vary. How long a case will last can vary from less than one day to several weeks. Over a hundred years have passed since Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, resolved that impartial private citizens (jurors) should apply their common sense and judgement to determine guilt or innocence as a counterweight and corrective force to the authorities and powers that be.
Why do jurors sit in criminal cases? The principle of judgement by our peers
A common legal principle is judgement by our peers. Lay people play an important role in our justice system. They are used as a guarantee for justice, ensuring that the public have influence and can express their opinion of justice by judging criminal cases.
Jurors are used in the District Courts and Courts of Appeal for criminal cases. Jurors are either called lay judges or jury members. Lay judges have equal status to the presiding judge and have to decide whether the accused is guilty and the appropriate sentence. The presiding judge has the deciding vote when it comes to sentencing.
When a Court of Appeal handles the most serious criminal cases, the question of guilt in most cases will be decided by a jury with 10 jurors.
How are jurors selected?
Every District Court has two panels of lay people from which jurors are drawn, one for men and one for women. The Courts of Appeal also have a panel for each sex. Lay judges and jury members are drawn from these two panels.
Jurors are chosen by the local authority or town council for a period of four years. The Courts of Justice Act (link to lovdata.no) applies certain criteria to who can be selected for jury service: You must be at least 21 years old and under 70, be entitled to vote and eligible for election to the local council. You must be Norwegian or a Norwegian citizen or have been in the Norwegian National Register as resident in Norway for the last three years. You must also be able to speak and understand Norwegian. Jurors must also meet certain criteria concerning their criminal record.
See a short film "What does it mean to be a lay judge in norwegian courts" (english text)