State prosecutors Svein Holden and Inga Bejer Engh vigorously defended their controversial decision to push for an insanity verdict for Anders Behring Breivik, Thursday. Breivik, who admits to murdering 77 people on 22nd July 2011, wishes to be found sane.
Bejer Engh was at great pains to correct the impression that an insanity verdict would see Breivik out on the streets. Many people believe this, “but it's absolutely not the case.”
Breivik could however apply for release after three years if found insane. Whilst his release may be unlikely, many are concerned about the trauma to the bereaved and to survivors that repeated appeals from Breivik might have.
When asked about the fact that fully three quarters of Norwegians believe Breivik should be considered sane and held to account for his actions, Bejer Engh said the prosecution had to act within the framework of the law as it stood.
“If we are out of kilter with what the Norwegian people believe, then that is very serious,” she said, “and we will have to sit down and say something must be done. But it can't be done now.”
When asked whether she wished the legislation allowed them to conclude that Breivik was sane, she dismissed the question as irrelevant. “We have to relate to the law as it now stands,” she reiterated. “We can have that debate later.”
There has throughout this trial been a great deal of emphasis on psychiatric evidence. The Foreigner asked Bejer Engh whether there was a danger of the international community judging Norway as soft on crime by being so willing to consider a verdict of insanity.
“I'm completely aware that compared to many other countries like England we apply the law in an extraordinarily humane way, and that perception was there before 22nd July... So it's not surprising that countries with stricter legal structures think so... It's a choice the government has taken.”
If there were reasonable doubts about Breivik's sanity, she said, then he must be found insane according to Norwegian law as it stands.
Should judges find Breivik insane, he cannot be punished for his crimes under Norwegian law, but will instead be treated in a secure mental hospital.