Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Ringmaster of a Media Circus

The following article concerns Geir Lippestad, the defense attorney for Anders Behring Breivik.

Mr. Lippestad is attempting to manipulate the Norwegian media by appealing to them not to, well, manipulate the coverage of his client and thereby try the case in the press.

For the past eight months Mr. Lippestad has done his best to try his client in the press — on terms favorable to Mr. Breivik, of course. To an outsider, this latest appeal seems a shameless stunt on the part of the wily trial lawyer. But maybe it looks different to the Norwegian public.

Our Norwegian correspondent The Observer includes an introductory note to the translated article:

The article is about Anders Behring Breivik and the Norwegian media’s role in influencing the courts in Norway, particularly on the issue of Breivik’s sanity. In another newspaper article Lippestad claims that Breivik is altering his statements based upon the information presented in the newspapers.

If the Norwegian courts are that easily influenced by the media, how easy is it for the authorities to influence the courts, both directly and indirectly? This reeks of politically controlled courts.

One of the problems with Norway is that all the important positions are filled by individuals who have the ‘correct’ political opinions and are willing to follow the ‘directions’ set forth by the authorities, and not by individuals who have the best qualifications and who would carry out their responsibilities in a far superior manner.

The same syndrome was reflected in the poor police response in the hours after the 22/7 attacks.

From the March 21 edition of

Lippestad warns against a “public opinion court”

Defence attorney Geir Lippestad implores the media not to discuss the conclusions in a new medical report.

By Glenn Slydal Johansen

Six days before the July 22 trial against accused terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is scheduled to start, a new medical report has been released. This report will provide answers relating to the mental health of the defendant and whether or not he can be given a prison sentence.

The first medical report, which concluded that Breivik was criminally insane, was released just before Christmas last year. This report became the target of intense media scrutiny and led to demands for a new report. This request was finally accepted on January 13, when the court appointed new medical experts and ordered a second medical assessment. The court justified its decision with the intense criticism that the first report received in the media.

“Should wait”

Defence attorney Geir Lippestad believes that it’s the responsibility of the court to determine the information presented in the new report, and not the media.

“The media should refrain from discussing the content of this new report. The court should be given adequate time to study it first and process the information. There are procedures which need to be adhered to in a court of law in regards to how expert witnesses and the defendant give evidence. Having a public debate on this issue before the case goes to court is not the correct way to conduct a case,” Lippestad says.

“Are you afraid that the media will analyse this new report before the case goes to court?”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that. I sincerely hope that they’ll wait until after the experts have given their opinions and all the evidence has been presented. I appreciate that the media has a strong desire to start discussing this issue straight away, but it’s important to take a step back for the sake of due legal process.”

Public opinion court

It was toward the end of a speech given by Lippestad about the quality of the public discourse and the mass media on Wednesday morning that he criticized the Norwegian press. He expressed concern that the rule of law could be severely compromised by the media, giving rise to public opinion courts, through their intense criticism of the conclusion reached in the first medical report.

“The initial diagnosis of criminal insanity has been discredited in numerous articles in the newspapers and in the social media. Medical experts who don’t agree with the findings in the report have been brought in by the media to discredit the report. This is also the first time that a court in Norway has appointed new medical experts based solely on the intense public debate over their conclusions. This passionate one-sided public debate prevents due process to take place,” according to Lippestad.

New rules

He also pointed to the new mental health care laws that are currently under deliberation. The defence attorney believes that these laws have been drafted with his client in mind.

“Due legal process is jeopardized when the laws are being changed along the way,” Lippestad said, who also stressed that it was his duty to look after his client’s interests.

Televised testimony

The issue of Breivik’s sanity is likely to become the most pressing question in the upcoming trial. The first medical report concluded that Breivik is criminally insane. The defendant has also instructed his defence team to conduct their defence on the basis that he is sane.

Last week the district court announced that it is not going to honour the request made by the media to televise the testimony of the defendant. The media and the defence team have appealed this decision, and are in agreement on this particular issue.

“It’s up to the court to decide”

During a debate hosted by the Journalistic Club of Oslo earlier this week, secretary general Per Edgar Kokkvold told the audience that it’s not up to the media to determine the question of sanity.

“It’s the responsibility of the court — not politicians and the media,” he said.

He was of the personal opinion that the most democratic solution was to televise the court case.

“It is important that the media give the court the opportunity to do its job. This means complete openness, unfortunately. We can’t avoid it. This is going to be a debate that we will look back on later on and it is going to be historic.”