Opening statement Norway
Part 2: Specialist Director Mr. Jan Austad, Ministry of Justice and Public Security
In its Concluding observations from 2017 on the ninth periodic report of Norway, the Committee recommended that Norway should adopt a legal definition of rape in the Penal Code that places lack of consent at its center. This was in line with previous recommendations.
Our National Action Plan against rape for 2019–2022 stated that the Government shall “assess the need for a comprehensive review of the Penal Code’s chapter on sexual offences”, including the definition of rape.
In March 2021 the Ministry of Justice and Public Security commissioned the Criminal Law Commission to conduct a general review of the provisions regarding sexual offences in the Penal Code, and to propose a regulation that safeguards the individual’s right to sexual self-determination.
An important question that the committee was asked to assess, was whether a consent-based definition of rape should be introduced in the Penal Code.
The commission was composed of members from the courts, the police, the prosecution authority, the defense counsel, and academia. During its work the commission arranged meetings with several experts and stakeholders, for instance staff from sexual assault centers.
The commission submitted its report now in December. The commission proposes that the current provision on rape be replaced by a new consent-based provision. It also proposes several other amendments.
A public consultation on the report has a deadline of mid-April this year.
It can be mentioned that the Government undertakes in its political platform to investigate how the Penal Code can be amended so that the wording reflects that sexual intercourse and similar sexual activities without consent is prohibited and defined as rape, and that the Government will put forward proposals on such amendments.
Women in prison
In the concluding observations from 2017, the Committee recommended improvements in prison conditions for women, having noted that a number of prisons were old and unsuitable, and that health care services at times were not tailored to the specific needs of women.
We have since then attempted to secure enough separate prison facilities for female prisoners, and to provide specialized mental health care services.
A separate women’s unit was opened in Agder Prison in 2019. The unit has 30 places, 10 of which are high-security and the remaining 20 low-security.
In addition, the Correctional Service has recently established a working group that shall assess whether to rehabilitate older facilities, build new ones, or swap prison facilities currently in use by men. The working group shall make their recommendations by mid-March this year.
Bredtveit Detention and Security Prison has the national responsibility for women sentenced to preventive detention. The prison also receives female prisoners from all over Norway with mental health and substance abuse problems. A national resource team is now established at Bredtveit, with the aim to prevent long-term isolation for female prisoners with significantly impaired mental health and provide specialized mental health care services.
The concluding observations from 2017 also recommended that Norway should devise an action plan for enhanced prevention, protection and redress of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence, against Sami women and girl victims, including with a view to overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers, based on further research into the root causes, and allocate sufficient resources for its implementation.
In the present national action plan against domestic violence for 2021 to 2024 there is a separate chapter on violence and abuse in Sámi communities.
This part of the action plan has been developed in close collaboration with the Sámi Parliament.
The action plan aims at enhancing prevention, protection and criminal prosecution when it comes to violence and abuse in Sámi communities.
Measures include a mapping of the competence situation and the need for awareness and expertise in Sámi language and culture among employees in the public support services.
Linguistically and culturally sensitive support services will help to create mutual trust between Sámi victims of violence and service providers.
Funds are allocated for the implementation of the plan.
The national Sami competence centre shall provide guidance and increased knowledge of the Sami language and culture for public services targeted to children and families, as crisis shelter services, child welfare services and family counselling services.
We believe this will contribute to more equal services for Sámi children and families, and help strengthen confidence in support services among the Sámi population.
Homicides where the perpetrator was a current or former partner of the victim, have accounted for a quarter of all murders committed in Norway over the past couple of decades. 29 murders were committed in 2022, with seven of the victims – all of them women - being partners or previous partners of the perpetrator.
In 2018, the Government set up a Commission on Partner Homicide, tasked with reviewing a range of relevant cases. The objective was to strengthen our knowledge of risk factors and possible warning signs. The Commission report was released in late 2020, and proposes ways to develop more targeted protective measures and prevention strategies.
The Commission examined relevant documents in a number of criminal cases, and found that most partner homicides took place after one or more warning signs. In the Commission’s view, there is significant potential for preventing partner homicides.
The Commission recommended that a national permanent commission be established, to review all future cases of partner homicide. The purpose would be to learn from shortcomings and to a stronger degree prevent severe partner violence and homicides.
The Government has decided to establish such a permanent commission and its work is scheduled to start in 2024.
As this committee is probably aware of, the Crisis Centre Act makes it obligatory for all municipalities in Norway to provide shelter services for women, men and children who suffer domestic violence. The law has since its adoption contributed to more professional and comprehensive services.
Several evaluations, as well as recommendations from this committee and from GREVIO, have pointed out some weaknesses in the implementation of the law.
Being aware of these weaknesses, we are currently revising the Crisis Centre Act. Adequate services for women with addiction issues, services for the Sami population, and municipalities' obligations under the law, are some issues we are considering. The Ministry of Children and Families last autumn organised several meetings to gather input from main stakeholders as NGOs, shelters and local authorities. A consultation paper will be ready later this year.
Finally, we would like to mention certain positive developments and facts concerning the gender balance in various levels of the Justice sector.
For the last four years, over 50 per cent of new students at the bachelor course at The Norwegian Police University College were women. In 2022 this was 50,2 per cent. All future police officers must attend this course.
It could also be of interest to the committee to learn that the following high positions are currently filled by a woman:
The Minister of Justice and Public Security
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
The National Police Commissioner
The Director of the Norwegian Police Security Service
Head of the National Criminal Investigation Service, and last but not least the Head of the Norwegian Correctional Service.