State convicted for failing to protect victim of domestic violence

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Norway’s highest court has held the state liable for failing to protect a woman and her children from her violent ex-partner. The court ruling is considered a major victory for victims’ rights in a country where complaints have been rising that criminals often get more consideration.

The landmark case was filed by a woman who was badly beaten in 1998 with a chain, kicked and plagued with death threats from her Norwegian boyfriend at the time. She won a restraining order against him, but he continued to threaten both her and her four children. Seemingly unable to enforce the restraining order, state authorities arranged to move her and her children to a secret address and she ultimately felt forced to move far away from friends and family, to another part of the country.

Violation of human rights
The former boyfriend had managed to track her down, and the threats continued with no intervention by police who failed to hold the man in custody. While he was free to continue his campaign of violent aggression, she felt she was the one left to suffer and live in fear.

She finally sued the state, alleging that state authorities had violated her human rights. She believed it should be unnecessary for her to live in fear and at a secret address while her tormentor remained at large.

She lost at the local court level but won on appeal. The state then appealed to the Supreme Court, which has concluded that the state can be held responsible for failing to protect the woman and her human rights. The high court ruled that state police hadn’t taken the woman’s complaints seriously enough.

‘Important declaration’
“This is an important legal declaration that the police and the state can be held liable when they don’t do enough to protect victims from crime,” attorney John Christian Elden told newspaper Aftenposten.  “This is the first time the police have been convicting for failing in their responsibility to protect citizens.”

Ada Sofie Austegard, who has been campaigning for victims’ rights since her own daughter was murdered several years ago, said she thinks the Supreme Court ruling can have great impact on how police, prosecutors and local courts handle such cases in the future.

“It’s important that the burden is moved from the victim and over to the assailant, by using available rules and regulations as a means of stopping the threat factor,” Austegard told news bureau NTB. “With this ruling, the high court is showing that the state has a duty to secure the rights of this group.”

Trond Øvstedal of the state justice ministry, which is responsible for the state police and prosecutors, said the defendants were taking the Supreme Court’s ruling under advisement and “reading through it closely.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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