Consequences of changing expectations to law and its institutions

Illustrated by the role and background of judges in Norway

In: Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'histoire du droit / The Legal History Review
Author: Sören Koch1
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  • 1 Ass. Prof. Dr. jur. Sören Koch, University of Bergen, Faculty of Law, Magnus Langabøtesplass 1, N-5020 Bergen, Norway

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The paper focuses on the reasons for and effects of the establishment of appellate courts in Norway. Based on the assumption that the introduction of an appellate system was caused by – and at the same time produced – expectations of law, the author reconstructs central features of the Norwegian legal order and its surrounding legal culture. By especially looking at the crucial role of the legal office of the lawman (lagmann), both in the development of the judicature in general and especially in the courts of appeal, the legacy of the medieval popular assembly (þing / ting) is traced back to its historical roots. The author identifies a close relationship between the increasing influence of state power, the demand for an effective judiciary and prevailing ideals of justice. The result was a not always intended but continuous professionalisation of the judges until the 19th century. The introduction of a jury – consisting of lay judges – appears on this background as aberration. However, as expectations on law had changed, the participation of lay judges had become a political desire in Norway from approximately 1830. To support this political claim the judiciary was restructured by applying a deeply unhistorical perception of the judiciary’s historical roots. Due to contradicting political tendencies it took about 60 years to finally establish the jury-system. Despite the fact that the institution of the jury was constantly criticized by legal scientists and legal practitioners alike and despite losing its political backing already decades ago, it still continues to exist. Obviously, the romantic notion of folks-courts still has not lost its attraction jet. The paper demonstrates that this notion is – seen from a historical perspective – unsustainable.

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