Attorneys Geir Lippestad and Vibeke Hein Bæra are getting ready for the legal battle of their lives, when they walk into an expanded Oslo courthouse next month to defend confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. They’re tackling their enormous task as a matter of democratic principle, motivated, they say, by “genuine faith in a state governed by law.”
The case is both extraordinary and historic, as they try to preserve the legal rights of a young Norwegian man who killed 77 persons in the space of around three hours on the fateful afternoon of July 22, 2011. Lippestad says he likes to cite a defense attorney hero of his, who once said that he never defends what his clients did, only the client in question.
“Our job is to protect his (Breivik’s) rights,” Lippestad told members of the Foreign Press Association this week. He and Bæra said they have a “purely professional” relationship with their client, and no matter what heinous acts he carried out, “he is a person.” He deserves a solid defense, Lippestad said, calling that “important in a democracy.”
The two attorneys, backed up by additional colleagues, were due to deliver a list on Wednesday of who they intended to call on to testify at Breivik’s trial, which starts April 16 and will run for 10 weeks. The list was expected to contain around 30 names from Breivik’s acquaintances to Mullah Krekar and some other Islamic extremists. Such persons are important to question, they said, to get a better idea of Breivik as a person and his sense of reality.
The case is full of paradox, with the prosecution seemingly set to argue for Breivik’s commitment to a psychiatric institution instead of jail, on the grounds he’s insane, and the defense arguing that Breivik is not insane and thus able to face a prison term. It’s usually the other way around, Lippestad agreed, with the prosecution trying to put defendants in jail and defense counsel trying to keep their clients out of jail.
Lippestad said he has “no problem,” though, in going along with Breivik’s own wishes that he be declared sane and thus risk prison. “He is very clear that he wants to be judged as sane,” said Lippestad, noting that while Breivik has confessed to bombing government headquarters and then carrying out a massacre on the island of Utøya, he does not believe he should be punished because he claims he was merely carrying out a mandate he had from an alleged paramilitary organization to prevent Norway from becoming a multi-cultural society. “He views himself as a warrior with a mandate,” Lippestad said.
Neither Bæra nor Lippestad would detail why Breivik thinks he’s sane and wants to be judged as such. Lippestad noted that it’s difficult for the prosecution not to accept a court-appointed psychiatrists’ conclusion that he is insane. For many Norwegians, he added, it may be easier to accept what Breivik did by branding him as insane. A “second opinion” on Breivik’s mental state is due from a new team of court-appointed psychiatrists on April 10.
A new insanity determination won’t affect the trial itself, as it would in some countries, because Breivik regardless is viewed as able to stand trial. The first week of the trial will also feature Breivik’s own testimony, even if he’s believed to be insane, to allow him to have his say. “It’s incredibly complicated to evaluate all this, it’s really a medical diagnosis that’s at stake here,” Lippestad said.
An Oslo appeals court upheld a lower court ruling this week that bans televised coverage of Breivik’s testimony and most of the rest of the case. Both a Norwegian editors’ organization and Breivik himself planned an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Norwegian law has no provision for multiple counts of murder, Bæra noted, meaning that the maximum prison term of 21 years applies whether a convict killed one person or, as in this case, 77 persons. Breivik won’t face the possibility of 77 21-year terms, for example, plus separate terms for all the potential charges of attempted murder.
There are attempts, though, to find ways of keeping Breivik locked up, perhaps for the rest of his life. Asked whether he thinks Breivik will ever be freed, either from prison or a psychiatric institution, Lippestad stressed that Norway “has no life sentences” and that “at one time or another, he must be returned to society. That’s the system we have.”
The magnitude of the Breivik case, though, has unleashed efforts to change that system. Others claim Norwegian law already has provisions that can keep Breivik confined for as long as he’s considered a danger to society. Since he has never expressed any regret and said he’d do the same again, that may amount to a very long time.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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