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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Court orders new evaluation of terrorist’s mental health

Oslo’s City Court has appointed new psychiatrists to seek a second opinion on the mental health of confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who was controversially declared insane in November. Meanwhile, Norway’s leading advocate for the rights of crime victims is calling for changes in the law, to make sure crime victims are warned if murderers declared insane are released on leave from psychiatric institutions.

It’s fully possible under current law that Breivik, who killed 77 persons in his terrorist attacks of July 22, could someday be released from a psychiatric institution if committed to one on the basis of being insane at the time of his crimes. “No one should be fooled into thinking that Anders Behring Breivik will never be released,” victims’ rights advocate Ada Sofie Austegard told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. “He’ll eventually be allowed leave. If he’s sentenced to a psychiatric institution, none of those who survived his attacks or the families of his victims will be warned that he’s allowed some freedom.” If found to be healthy enough for supervised leave, not even the legal authorities will be notified, she said.

‘Fear and frustration’
Austegard, whose activism began when her own eight-year-old daughter was raped and murdered in Kristiansand 12 years ago, claimed that the justice and health care system’s rules allowing for prison leave and leave from psychiatric hospitals constantly stir fear and frustration among crime victims. She believes it’s high time that politicians demand tougher rules, and bolster the rights of crime victims instead of just those who have committed crimes.

Austegard is concerned for the families of those killed by Breivik, especially if he avoids a prison term and instead is committed to a psychiatric hospital, which is what will happen if the declaration that he’s insane is upheld. That has set off a storm of controversy and debate since November, when two court-appointed psychiatrists released their declaration.

Prosecution attorneys continue to claim, ironically enough, that Breivik likely will avoid punishment with a prison term anyway. That’s because doubt will linger over his mental state, they note, even if a new psychiatric evaluation declares him sane.

New evaluation can be appealed
On Friday afternoon, one of the judges set to handle Breivik’s trial this spring, Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen, announced the court was appointing two new psychiatrists to also evaluate Breivik. Arntzen insisted that the new appointment didn’t mean the court was critical of the first evaluation, but rather that the court wanted a new evaluation given conflicting opinions from other psychiatrists and psychologists, also at the prison where Breivik is being held, and because of the massive public debate on the issue.

The court order for a new psychiatric evaluation of a defendant is historic, with psychiatric specialist  Kjersti Narud telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it has never happened before. The new evaluation will be conducted by forensic psychiatrists Agnar Aspaas from Tønsberg and Terje Tørrissen from Hamar.

Breivik’s defense attorney Geir Lippestad told NRK he wasn’t surprised that the court ordered a new psychiatric evaluation of Breivik, even though neither defense counsel nor the prosecution had requested it. The court order can be appealed and may likely be, since Breivik himself has made it clear he doesn’t want to submit to more psychiatric examination.

Breivik has also refused to answer more questions from police investigators, reportedly because of a dispute over programs he wants installed on the computer he’s now allowed to use in his prison cells.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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