Lay judges play an important role in our justice system.
Lay judges are used when the accused is to be “judged by his peers”.
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. Lay judges 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. Lay judges are not used in the Supreme Court in any kind of case. A lay judge 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 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 lay judges sit in criminal cases? The principle of judgement by our peers
A common legal principle in Norway 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.
Lay judges are used in the District Courts and Courts of Appeal for criminal cases. Lay judges have equal status to the presiding judge and have to decide whether the accused is guilty and the appropriate sentence.
How are lay judges 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 are drawn from these two panels.
Lay judges are chosen by the local authority or town council for a period of four years. The Courts of Justice Act (link to lovdata.no in norwegian) applies certain criteria to who can be selected for lay judge 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 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. Lay judges 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)
Lay judges survey 2018
In 2018 Norwegan Courts Administration conducted a national suvery amongst lay judges. You may read a summary of the report here: 2018 Lay judge survey
A summary is also available in German: 2018 Laienrichterumfrage