Justice Minister Knut Storberget was fending off more criticism this week in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Norway last summer. Some critics also renewed calls for his resignation.
Storberget claimed just recently that he has no intention of resigning, because that would be like shirking his responsibilities after the worst civilian attacks in history.
Now, however, officials at the national lawyers’ professional association, Advokatforeningen, were expressing concern after newspaper Aftenposten reported that Storberget had called a publicly appointed lawyer for survivors and victims’ families and asked her to dampen her own criticism of emergency response to the attacks. As head of the justice ministry, Storberget is responsible for the response from police and intelligence units, now under investigation by a government-appointed commission.
Storberget confirms he called lawyer Mette Yvonne Larsen on the evening of August 19 but claims his main goal was to correct statements she’d made in the media earlier implying that Storberget had not met with victims’ families or survivors, called pårørende (“poe-rurr-enn-duh”) in Norwegian. Storberget, who worked nearly around the clock in the weeks following the attacks and attended numerous funerals and memorials, felt a need, he said, to inform Larsen that he had indeed met with many pårørende and would continue to do so.
“It was an attempt on my part to say our door was open,” Storberget told Aftenposten on Wednesday. He said he had no memory of allegedly asking her to tone down her criticism.
Larsen, who has criticized the police, the state’s security measures and the media, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she at first welcomed Storberget’s call, but then felt he tried to pressure her when he allegedly told her that the criticism she was raising was hard on both the police and pårørende alike. She interpreted that as pressure from him to tone down her public remarks.
Larsen told NRK that she’s not calling for Storberget’s resignation but some other lawyers are. Sjak Haaheim, who represents other clients in connection with the terrorist attacks, said Storberget’s call to Larsen was not in line with his government’s calls for more openness. He suggested Storberget was trying to restrict Larsen’s freedom of expression.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of Advokatforening, said there was cause for concern if Storberget had indeed asked Larsen to limit her criticism. “The role of a lawyer must be independent,” Reiss-Andersen told Aftenposten.
Storberget has his supporters, with the head of another attorneys’ group, Norges Juristforbund, saying Larsen and others must show tolerance for the highly stressed situation Storberget and all involved in the terrorist attacks have been in. Defense attorney John Christian Elden, who normally finds himself opposing state prosecutors in court, said perhaps “someone” is making too much of a phone conversation. “Even though I think Storberget’s methods are a bit strange, I can also understand them to a certain degree,” Elden told Aftenposten.
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