Three Syrian brothers were released from prison this week after appealing their original conviction for rape and sexual assault on two thirteen-year-old Norwegian girls. The appeal was on the grounds that the men had insufficient knowledge of Norwegian culture, legislation and language. The freed men can now claim compensation for false-imprisonment from the Norwegian government.
During the original trial, the court ruled that the intercourse was voluntary, however, the girls were below the legal age of consent. The public defender of the brothers argued that they believed the girls to be 16-18 years old, as the girls had claimed to be, in addition to dressing maturely. Crucial to the now overturned conviction was the Norwegian Supreme Court ruling on Statuary rape. In Norway it is the responsibility of involved parties to confirm the other’s age, and not rely on appearance or self-reported-age. The men were each sentenced to four years and three months in prison for the rape of one girl. Two of the men were also convicted for sexual assault on the second girl.
A new trial recently took place before a jury of 10 women and 4 men. The jury did not explain the reasons for their decision, just declared the men innocent. The girls counsel, however, believes it was because the brothers were foreigners. The formerly accused, now acquitted, brothers had limited knowledge of Norwegian culture, legislation and language skills. Without these skills, making enquiries as to the girls true ages would have been difficult. This decision has the potential to create a dangerous legal precedent in Norway as migrants now may not be expected to live by the same set of laws as native Norwegians.
Attorney General Oddbjørn Søreide was surprised by the decision, but will not appeal. “There is nothing to appeal over,” he said. “It is in the jury system that the jury never justifies its decisions. Thus, the parties do not know what the majority of the ten women and men have found proven.”
Currently 80% of police investigations into rape are unsolved in Norway, in part due to shoddy investigations and evidence gathering. The potential for convicted criminals to be released on appeal must be discouraging for the police force. The creation of a second-tier legal system for immigrants in Norway is a worrying development. Governments in Europe need to be aware of a backlash against police and legal decisions contrary to western conceptions of ethics, morality and fairness.