Confessed right-wing Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was ready and in place for what’s considered one of his most important days in court on Tuesday. He’d even made his now-customary, clenched-fist extremist salute before sitting down, when the judge immediately delayed proceedings because of concerns over the impartiality of one of the trial’s lay judges.
Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen, who’s leading the judiciary panel hearing Norway’s biggest criminal trial since World War II, announced that one of the three so-called “ordinary” Norwegians who’d been randomly called in as a meddommer (lay judge) in the case had issued an opinion that could damage what the Norwegians call habilitet – the ability to make a fair and impartial judgment.
Arntzen said Thomas Indrebø, who’d been expected to sit through the entire 10-week trial, had admitted posting a comment on social media right after Breivik’s attacks last summer that claimed “punishment by death” would be “the only fair” sentence for the man who bombed government quarters, carried out a massacre on the island of Utøya and killed 77 persons in the process. Norway has no death penalty, however.
Indrebø’s comment, Arntzen said, was posted on July 23 and he failed to mention it when he was screened by court officials for the lay judge’s post. All the attorneys involved in Breivik’s trial were late appearing in the courtroom on Tuesday morning, because they’d been called into an emergency meeting before the day’s proceedings began to discuss the impartiality issue.
Lawyers for the prosecution, the defense and those representing specific survivors and victims’ families all said in court that Indrebø should be disqualified. Arntzen then suspended proceedings for nearly an hour to evaluate the issue and returned with a verdict that Indrebø had immediately been removed from the judiciary panel. She noted that his social media “reaction” came long before lay judges were selected and at a time of great emotional reaction to the terrorist attacks, but she said it “weakened the court’s confidence” in his impartiality at present. His failure to mention the comment during his screening process further weakened the court’s confidence in him.
Indrebø, a 33-year-old receptionist, was replaced by one of two reserve lay judges in the case, 71-year-old retiree Anne Elisabeth Wisløff. The other reserve lay judge, 46-year-old Ole Westerås, was not present in the courtroom during the trial’s opening day, so some legal experts in Oslo were questioning whether the first day’s proceedings would need to be repeated if Westerås is to be considered fully informed and ready to step in for Wisløff should the need arise.
The disruption amounted to an awkward and dramatic beginning to the day when Breivik himself was due to testify. Like all criminal defendants in Norway, Breivik is being allowed the chance to defend and explain why he felt it was necessary to attack the Norwegian government and the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth organization AUF last summer. He has said he targeted those who have allowed Norway to develop into a multi-cultural society, because he has a mission to prevent what he calls “Muslim domination” of Norway and the rest of Europe.
Norway’s Supreme Court has ruled that Breivik’s testimony can neither be televised nor recorded by the news media. His testimony, due to begin at 9am, finally got underway later in the morning, with the judge allowing him to read from a prepared statement and informing him that she may interrupt him along the way. He then would face questions from the prosecution.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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