No-one may be sentenced except in accordance with the law or be punished except after a court judgement. Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
(From the Constitution § 96).
Lady Justitia is a symbol of justice. Often, we see her portrayed blindfolded. In the court of law, sentences are not passed by blind goddesses, but by people.
With this exhibition, we want to open a door into one the rooms in a state governed by law, the court of law. Inside the court of law, court artist Ane Hem has observed and drawn the people, often as a part of the media’s coverage of serious criminal cases. Experts with various perspectives on the court’s work have contributed with texts included in the exhibition.
Who is passing sentences, who can be convicted, and what is the connection between what is right and what is just?
Managing Director of the Justice Museum
NATIONS SHOULD BE BUILT BY LAW
As long as we have had societies governed by law and order, the ambition has been to create justice.
“I will let the court enlighten the country, do away with law-breakers and assailants, prevent the strong from hurting the weak.” This is how king Hammurabi of Mesopotamia opens the first law we know from 1754 BC. Around 1200 AC, the Frostating law proclaims for the people of Trøndelag that “with the aid of the law, the country will be built, and not with unlaw destroyed.” In the current Norwegian judge’s oath, it says that judges never should “depart from law and justice.”
The time span is nearly 3750 years, but the ambition to use the law to lay the basis for justice is the same. The wish for justice is so strong that even the law may be set aside when it is totally unjust. But is justice written in people’s hearts or is justice what is sensible and logical?
King Hammurabi let his law be carved in stone. This shows how sure he was that it was fair. Today, we have court cases that are open to the public, so that everyone in society may be part of the discussion of what is just. Because even if the courts of law have the last say in every court case, the last word is never said in the discussion of what is just.
Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde
WHY DO WE HAVE COURTROOM ARTISTS?
Imagine that you are giving evidence in a court case. You are walking up to the witness stand. Everyone is following you, one more intensely than the others. It is she who sits ready with her pencil. Her eyes follow your body lines, as if they creep in under your skin while you make your statement to the court. Fast movements over the paper.
It did not last long. Nevertheless, the same evening you see yourself portrayed in the online newspapers. A courtroom drawing that has caught the way you leaned forward, uncomfortable, and at the same time deeply concentrated.
You are relieved by the way your hair is hiding most of your face.
Courtroom artists subdue the characteristics of those who do not want their names in the paper. Witnesses have a special protection. Others are sketched with good likeness.
A court case should be a solemn occasion, it is a question of guilt and punishment. The state governed by law unfolds here. Therefore, transparency is important, the journalists share what happens behind the closed doors. Even the courtroom artist is here commissioned by the media, makes the text come alive and creates nuances with their drawings.
PUNISHMENT AND JUSTICE
We find it just that a person who has done anything wrong is punished, but why do we do that?
It is considered to be very unjust to punish a person who is innocent – that is what we call miscarriage of justice. Therefore, we have a rule that says that the accused is to have the benefit of any reasonable doubt. That means that the evidence must be so conclusive that there is no doubt that the accused is guilty. Moreover, we need a method to treat the cases that is reassuring. The judges must be neutral and objective, and the person who is accused must have someone to safeguard his interests – this is the task of the defence counsel.
What is a “just” punishment? What is fair must be balanced against other considerations; we feel that it is not right that the person who has injured another to the extent that he has become blind, himself should have his eyes taken out. But it seems just that a serious crime is punished stricter than a less serious crime.
It may seem just that two persons who have committed the same type of act have the same punishment. But what if the one thief is rich and the other stole to get money for food?
PERSONS WHO ARE NOT CRIMINALLY LIABLE
It is important to understand that some criminals were in a state of mind at the time of crime that makes it unreasonable to say that they had criminal capacity. In order to be convicted, you need to have a reasonable understanding of the situation. Persons who are not criminally liable may not be blamed. In that case it will also be incorrect to convict them.
One hundred years ago, it was common that persons that were not criminally liable, so-called “lunatics”, were admitted to psychiatric hospitals and stayed there for a long period of time. People would think that their state of health was adequate as punishment. Currently, we have treatments that are far better, and several psychotic criminals may be discharged from psychiatric wards after a few weeks. Has such a person come off the hook too easily?
Provisions in the law say that if the person who is acquitted due to lack of criminal capacity, is assumed to constitute a security risk in the future, then the psychiatric healthcare is responsible to give him/her good treatment. He, or she, may not be discharged before the risk is reduced.
WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE STAND TRIAL
The minimum age of criminal liability in Norway is 15 years of age. The UN Children’s Convention apply as Norwegian law. The Convention says that we want to avoid having children stand trial.
We should protect young persons against court cases, among other things because it is burdensome and difficult to be the accused in a court case. There may be a lot of media interest and it may be difficult for a young person to understand what is going on in the court room. But some cases are so serious that young people under the age of 18 must stand trial.
Young people who stand trial in Norway are treated fairly, but the system may nevertheless be improved. Some countries have separate rules and separate courts for young people. In these courts, the judges are experts on young people and their rights. They are used to talk to young people and know a lot about what may be done to help young people out of crime.
In the Children’s Convention, there are separate rules for court cases against young people under the age of 18. They have the right to:
● A lawyer who defends them and helps them to understand what is happening in court.
● To have their parents or other guardians present.
● Have the case settled as soon as possible.
The Commissioner for Children in Norway has interviewed young people who have stood trial. Several of them explain that it is difficult to understand what happens. They also are curious of what happens afterwards. Several of them say that the most difficult part is to wait for an answer: First to get to know whether they are guilty and what the punishment will be – and then to know that they can start serving the sentence. Some wait for one year or more from the time they have committed a crime to begin serving the sentence.
Anders Prydz Cameron
Senior advisor the Commissioner for Children