In a landmark verdict, Johny Vassbakk, accused of the 1995 murder of Birgitte Tengs, was acquitted, triggering a serious scrutiny of the relationship between the Norwegian police and the public prosecution authority. The rare and fierce criticism in the Gulating Court of Appeal's judgment has raised eyebrows and brought the unique integrated public prosecution system in Norway under the spotlight.
Critical Examination of a Verdict
Judge Lagdommer Rune Bård Hansen, a justice of a court ranking higher than the district court, voiced his surprise at the severity of the criticism in the verdict. The judgment highlighted an evident confirmation trap where police and prosecutors pursued evidence supporting their theory of Vassbakk's guilt, disregarding contradictory information.
The case brings into focus the distinct public prosecution system in Norway, where prosecutors are placed within the police force—a model contrasting with countries like Sweden where the prosecution and police are clearly separated. The controversial case has triggered calls for a comprehensive review of the current model and its impact on the objectivity of the prosecution authority.
Debate on Separation of Police and Prosecution
Kjell Abrahamsen, a prosecution leader, questioned the current model's influence on the impartiality of the prosecution authority, suggesting a thorough review. Politimester Kaare Songstad also advocated for a debate on whether the police and prosecution should operate independently. The Police Union, in response to the controversy, has decided to investigate the model to ensure the maintenance of independence.
The case has emphasized the requirement for a quality check of the system, particularly in grave cases where the effects of systemic flaws can be devastating.