Nils Christie, a highly regarded and outspoken professor who ushered in major reforms of criminal law, was laid to rest Wednesday in a ceremony that coincided with sirens blaring from a civil defense exercise, followed by music for reflection. Newspaper Dagsavisen described it all as rather symbolic of the man in question.
Christie, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Oslo, died in a cycling accident in Oslo on May 27, at the age of 87. He was active to the end and will be remembered for never hesitating to challenge authority or campaign for more humane narcotics policies and treatment of criminals.
His death was described as “terribly sad” by another professor emeritus at the Institute for Criminology, Cecilie Høigård. “As a researcher, he was known for posing strange and unexpected questions,” she told Dagsavisen. “He was always curious and never took anything for granted. He challenged established truths in the 1980s, for example that all forms of narcotics were terribly dangerous. There were draconic punishments at that time for use of even milder drugs.”
Others said he influenced generations of criminologists and was a bold voice in public debate, often taking the side of the downtrodden. Many of Christie’s books and theories were published, translated and distributed internationally, and influenced criminal policies in other countries as well. He also played a key role in the establishment of a Norwegian council to resolve conflicts (Konfliktrådene).
His funeral on Wednesday did not take place in a church, but rather in a community hall in Oslo located on a plaza named for the workers’ movement. “As welcome as flowers is a donation to a good cause,” wrote his family on the funeral notice. Christie would likely have approved.