Free legal aid in Norway

Norway is one of the most wealthy countries in the world, and has a comprehensive welfare system. Yet the system of free legal aid covers only 9 % of the population, and people receiving disability benefits are considered too rich to qualify for free legal aid. (Fighting for a just case) does not mean/does not equal (getting justice). Rights given to people are without meaning if the intended receivers don’t get what they are entitled to.

It is a known matter that legal services are expensive. Therefore most countries have a system to ensure that legal services are not reserved to the rich. Norway has an act for free legal aid. It is stated in article 1 that the law is a “social support scheme” with the purpose of “ensuring the necessary legal assistance” to persons who “do not themselves have the financial means” to be able to take care of their need of legal help in cases of “great personal and welfare significance”. (My personal translation from Norwegian to English)

The purpose article 1 in the Norwegian Free Legal Aid Act is good. At the same time the legal system is not built to fulfill this purpose. The system of free legal aid has also been criticized by the UN for excluding a large part of the population, and for in reality neither giving access to court nor ensure the principle of equality of arms.

The law differentiates between free legal aid in criminal cases and civil cases. If you are indicted you are entitled to a defense attorney. In the civil cases, the access to legal aid depends on your income, and it is not taken in account if you have children, debt or any other necessary living costs.

The Norwegian system has a tradition of short laws, but also regulations that complement the law. In the regulation given about the law of free legal help it is specified that free legal aid is only given in specific cases. If your case is not mentioned, you will not get free legal aid – you are on your own. As mentioned only 9 % of the population have an income so low that they qualify for free legal aid. This means that 89 % are excluded.

The areas that are covered if your income is low enough is for example if your landlord are resigning you from your residence, in some cases of divorce and in some limited areas of labor law.

This is where Jussbuss comes in. We help people who are not covered by the limited free legal aid system.

Therefore the law itself creates a gap between those who are covered and those who are not. This creates inequality, and many people who have a critical need of legal help are on their own. From Jussbuss’ point of view everyone should be entitled to legal advice from educated jurists to find out if there is anything that can be done in their case. If the conclusion is that you have a case, you should be transferred to a lawyer who can work on your case. It is a shame that people have to base their entire case on students working mainly voluntarily to be sure to get what they are entitled to.

Even though Norway in many ways is a great country to live in, we still have a long way to go regarding legal aid, and especially free legal aid. We still have a system that creates inequality, contrary to the purpose of the law and the system.

Ole Martin J. Slyngstadli