Turning the Witness Stand into a Speaker's Platform: Victim Participation in the Norwegian Legal System as Exemplified by the Trial Against Anders Behring Breivik

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
Turning the Witness Stand into a Speaker’s
Platform: Victim Participation in the Norwegian
Legal System as Exemplified by the Trial Against
Anders Behring Breivik
Solveig Laugerud A
˚se Langballe
In this article, we investigate how victims pursue legal participation when they
are confronted by legal barriers and dilemmas that arise from tensions
between legal formality and lay expectations and contributions of legal pro-
ceedings. We use the trial against Anders Behring Breivik as a case. Breivik
placed a bomb in Norway’s Government District before he shot and killed 69
people on a small island. We analyze interviews with 31 victims who testified
against Breivik in court. We argue that the circumstances of the trial against
Breivik can be characterized as “ideal” in terms of victims’ rights. The excep-
tionality of this case facilitates a focus on unquestioned obstacles to victim par-
ticipation concerning the professionalization of the legal system. We question
the presumption prevalent among some theorists that the professionalization
of the legal system excludes lay participation, by arguing that legal formality
both alienate and empower lay participation.
In recent decades, the legal status of victims has changed radi-
cally. Most of these legal changes have been a result of the efforts
of victim advocates, right-wing lobbyists and the women’s move-
ment (Gillis & Beloof 2001; Goodey 2005). The degree to which
claims for victims’ rights have been part of a retributive or restor-
ative movement depends in part upon the political context in
which they were operating (Barker 2007). These groups’ accom-
plishments range from the establishment of various victim-
support services to services and reforms in the law-enforcement
and legal systems. Legal changes include the right to be informed
of developments in a case, the right to attend legal proceedings,
the right to confer with the prosecutor, the right to sensitive
The authors would like to thank Grete Dyb at NKVTS for facilitating this study and for
making useful comments on the manuscript. A special thanks to May-Len Skilbrei at the
University of Oslo for all her critical, insightful and constructive comments on this article.
Author Contributions: Laugerud, in collaboration with Langballe, designed the study
and conducted the interviews. Laugerud analyzed the data material and drafted the manu-
script; Langballe reviewed the manuscript.
Please direct all correspondence to Solveig Laugerud, Centre for Gender Research,
University of Oslo, PB 1040, Blindern, N-0315 Oslo, Norway; e-mail: solveig.laugerud@
Law & Society Review, Volume 51, Number 2 (2017)
C2017 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
treatment during legal proceedings and the right to contribute to
the criminal justice decision-making process through a victim
impact statement (Goodey 2005; Mastrocinque 2010). The right
to provide input into the legal decision-making process has devel-
oped differently in different adversarial legal systems. Depending
on the country and legal system involved, the victim impact state-
ment can be either oral or written, and it can be delivered at var-
ious stages of the legal proceeding. Impact evidence is intended
to inform the criminal justice system of the loss, damage and suf-
fering caused by a crime. Reforms also include protective mea-
sures, such as rape-shield laws intended to restrict questions
regarding a victim’s sexual history and reputation, which have
often been used to prove consent and attack the victim’s credibili-
ty (Matoesian 1995).
In light of recent legal changes, it has been argued that victim
reforms represent important developments in the era of victims’
rights. However it has also been suggested that implementation
of victim reforms have created tensions between victims’ interests
and institutional demands, tensions regarding what is considered
victims’ subjective input on the one hand, and objective legal val-
ues on the other hand (Edwards 2002; Erez & Laster 1999; Erez
et al. 2014). Furthermore, it has been argued that we lack a theo-
retical basis for victim participation (Edwards 2001). However,
Christie (1977) and Bourdieu (1986) have theorized on how the
professionalization of the legal system excludes victim participa-
tion. In this article, we focus on the tensions created between the
characteristics of a professionalized legal system on the one hand,
and victim’s expectations and contribution on the other hand.
Moreover, we will argue, contrary to Christie and Bourdieu, that
professionalization of the legal system not only excludes, but also
includes lay participation. Although previous studies allude to
tensions created by implementation of victim reforms, there is lit-
tle emphasis on how legal formality facilitates or inhibits victims’
participation in legal proceedings. Erez and Laster (1999) have
focused on how tensions between victims’ interests and profes-
sional and institutional demands have created skepticism among
legal professionals who attempt to minimize victims’ influences in
legal proceedings, for example by transforming personal
accounts into a legal representation of victim harm. However, in
a different study, Erez et al. (2014) argue that legal professionals
also work to ease possible tensions by attempting to reconcile
conflicting interests. Englebrecht (2011) argues that disparate
views on victims’ role in legal proceedings might create conflicts
between victims and legal professionals within the system. Addi-
tionally, she argues that victims both appreciate their role in legal
proceedings and simultaneously risk having their high hopes
228 Turningthe Witness Stand into a Speaker’s Platform

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