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Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Must have faith in the legal system’

The two state attorneys who will lead the prosecution against confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at his trial next spring hope Norwegians will have faith in the country’s legal system. A new poll shows that 90 percent want him locked up for the rest of his life, but questions have arisen over whether that’s possible after court-appointed psychiatrists declared him insane.

These are the two state prosecutors, Inga Bejer Engh and Svein Holden, who will lead the case against Anders Behring Breivik next spring, appearing at Tuesday's press conference that was aired live nationwide by, among others, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). PHOTO: NRK / Views and News

“I have a hope that people will have confidence that the system we have will take care of society’s need for security,” said Svein Holden, who  will prosecute Breivik along with colleague Inga Bejer Engh at the trial still due to begin on April 16. Holden said he also hoped Norwegians would understand that persons determined to be insane can’t be sentenced to prison or to Norway’s form of long-term preventive custody called forvaring.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) released results of a public opinion poll on Wednesday, however, showing that nine out of 10 persons questioned don’t think Breivik should ever be set free. Only 7 percent supported an eventual release, while the remainder were unclear.

Given the public demand that Breivik remains locked up, especially since the psychiatrists found him likely to commit more violent acts including suicide bombing, unsettling questions arise over whether that will be possible since he now appears likely to be ordered held in a psychiatric institution for treatment of his diagnosed psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia. Such orders are subject to renewal every three years in Norway, and the question arises what will happen if doctors eventually deem him cured.

A third set free
Newspaper Aftenposten reported some unsettling statistics on Wednesday showing what has become of 110 violent criminals declared insane and committed to psychiatric institutions during the past 10 years. From 2005 until 2011, fully a third of them were no longer considered a threat to society. All were guilty of crimes including murder, sexual assault, arson or other forms of violence. Their commitments to psychiatric institutions, however, were overturned and they were released.

Only one has been re-arrested for new crimes, but the releases raise concern. Asked whether what would happen if Breivik is suddenly found to be healthy and no longer insane, legal experts have said the court can continue to order him held in custody if he’s ruled to be a menace to society.

Attorney John Christian Elden, who represents 170 of Breivik’s victims, told newspaper Dagsavisen that he was surprised by the insanity declaration but he doesn’t fear a release. “If he is declared healthy but still a danger to society, he can be transferred from the psychiatric hospital to custody at Ila (the high-security prison where he is now),” Elden told Dagsavisen. “He can’t hope for much more than that.”

Breivik himself, said to be “offended” by the insanity ruling, may also seek to have it overturned now, because he believes he’s sane and wants to explain why he killed 77 persons on July 22. There’s also been a call for foreign psychiatric experts to go through the court-appointed psychiatrists’ report, to obtain another opinion.

Norwegian philosopher Henrik Syse, an author and senior researcher at peace research institute PRIO in Oslo, said he can understand that many are reacting negatively to the thought that Breivik can’t be sentenced to prison now, if the insanity determination is upheld.

“The entire nation has been shaken by this, but I hope the survivors and all of us others can hang on to the fundamental principles here,” Syse, the son of a former prime minister, told Dagsavisen. “What he did was wrong. His actions remain. As a nation, we will manage to put this behind us, stand together with the survivors and move forward. If his not being sane is part of the process, we just have to accept that.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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