Anthropological Reflections on Restoring Justice in Norway

Ida Hydle, Adger University College

In my recent anthropological analysis of a criminal law case in Norway I used a "theory of knowledge"-approach to profile and contrast the legal and medical professionals' performances in the courtroom. One of my conclusions after fieldwork is that there seems to be a basic problem of randomness in the legal narrative - in spite of the objective and whole Truth-and-fact-approximation claimed by the legal professions, which is exacerbated by the hegemonic position of the presiding judges. The practical implications of my ethnography raise questions about criminal court-practice and contemporary Norwegian judicature. It is no coincidence that Michel Foucault focussed on the medico-legal complex as the crucial site of knowledge upon which Western society and its power structures are premised, nor is Pierre Bourdieu's "The Force of Law" an arbitrary contribution in the discourse. By happenstance, a committee in the Norwegian Ministry of Justice recently asked me to evaluate a new approach to handling criminal cases of violence-with the use of restorative justice. Looking back at the history of law in Norway, restorative justice was used as a way of handling crime up to the 15th century. The professionalisation of conflicts evolved as a way for the Sovereign and the Church to increase their incomes. A closer look at the history of criminal law affords a background for understanding contemporary law-and-order problems and the reasons for re-introducing the principles of restorative justice.

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Updated 05/20/2006