Courthouse rebuilds for Breivik trial

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There seems to be no end to what confessed Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is costing his homeland, both in terms of lives and money. Lawyers and courthouse officials in Oslo now feel compelled to undertake a major remodeling of the local courthouse (Tinghuset) to accommodate Breivik’s trial, set to begin next spring.

This panel of lawyers and the courthouse's chief judge has decided on a major remodeling project to accommodate Breivik's trial next spring. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried their press conference live on national television Monday afternoon. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

The project involves another major taxpayer expense at a time when the courts otherwise are facing budget cuts. It was just last week that the Oslo court’s chief judge (called sorenskriver) Geir Engebretsen was quoted in newspaper Aftenposten as saying that the new proposed state budget would have “dramatic consequences” on the courts. The leaders of courts all over Norway are protesting the state budget that implies a cut of NOK 7.5 million in 2012 and another NOK 50 million in 2013.

That, they claim, will mean longer waits for cases to come to trial, poorer service for the public and more difficult working conditions for courthouse staff. Engebretsen and his colleagues nationwide have signed a letter protesting the proposed cuts.

Breivik’s trial poses additional huge challenges for Engebretsen in Oslo. On Monday, he led the presentation of major remodeling plans for the Oslo courthouse in connection with the upcoming trial of the man who killed 77 persons in Oslo and on the island of Utøya last summer. Engebretsen was joined by lawyers representing plaintiffs, prosecutors and the defendant himself.

They had agreed, after months of meetings, that the trial should be held in the local courthouse even though it lacks the capacity to take on such a huge case that involves hundreds of plaintiffs, their lawyers, thousands of witnesses and journalists from all over the world. Calls to hold the trial in a large local arena, though, were rejected, mostly on the grounds such a venue wouldn’t be worthy of the somber legal proceedings.

Instead, court officials have agreed to remodel the entire second floor of the Oslo courthouse, which covers an area of 2,500 square meters (around 25,000 square feet). That, Engebretsen said, will accommodate seating for 204 persons, while press centers will be built elsewhere in the courthouse and in the nearby Hotel Bristol. A separate center may be established at the Grand Hotel, also just a few blocks away, to accommodate survivors and families of Breivik’s victims.

Plans are also being laid for live video links to other courthouses around the country. Victims and survivors from Breivik’s massacre on Utøya were attending the Labour Party’s annual youth summer camp and came from all over the country.

Engebretsen couldn’t say how much all this will cost. “For the courts, this is a community obligation,” he said. “There’s a willingness from the Norwegian community to pay to have a good framework both around the investigation and the actual court case.”

Earlier in the day, Breivik appeared at his latest custody hearing which was open to the public for the first time. His trial is now set to begin April 16 and is expected to last for around 10 weeks.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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