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History of the Evolution of Courts in Norway
From the oldest sources we see that all free men in Norway had the obligation to meet at court (ting), which was called “bygdeting” or “allting”. The word “ting” means negotiation or discussion and such assemblies were common all over northern Europe where members of the court were chosen to become jurors and make judgments. The court was to handle all disputes and contentions as they occurred. In the early times laws were read in court to ensure that everyone knew them. After the law was read then it was supposed that everyone had knowledge of it. The court was also the local authority which enacted the regulations for the community.
Presumably the earliest sales of real estate took place on the property which was to be sold with witnesses present. It is told that the word “skøyte”, which means deed of conveyance, comes from that time period when a clump of earth was taken from the property and placed in the lap of the new owner. However, from very early it was the court which became the proper place to make private agreements on real estate. Since olden times, it had been customary for agreements to be made with the entire public present as witnesses. But it was not always so easy in actual practice. Gradually it was enough that the agreement was made at court. When something was read at the court with the public in attendance there were many who could witness what had taken place. But people have a limited lifetime so the question of committing the proceedings to writing came up.
On August 16 1590 an ordinance was given for the procedure for judging cases in Norway. The court should still have its important place and the public was still required to meet. This practice was not abolished until 1687 with Kristian 5’s law. But the ordinance of 1590 brought many changes in the way the court was held. The ordinance of July 31, 1591 required that sworn scribes should be in attendance to help in the court. It gradually became the custom that these scribes took over important functions from the public. At first the scribes were fellow judges, but, with time, became the chief judges.
Each “bydgeting” was normally held in its court district. It was the custom to hold three courts per year—spring, summer, and fall. A special court could be called for business or taxation. A period of four or five months was often too long to wait to bring a case to court. However, from 1735, cases which had to do with life, honor or peace could require a special court. Later this evolved to include cases where a guest or stranger to the area was involved. The guest court was set when the one part in a dispute was a stranger to the jurisdiction. Then the court should be held a soon as possible so that the outsider was not required to wait or to return later to clear the matter up.
It was sometimes necessary to handle cases which applied to boundaries or real estate disputes outside the courtroom, usually on the property, or these types of cases could be heard in a special court. But still four or five months was a long time to wait to bring a case to court and from 1797 court was held every month. These courts were held at the scribe’s (sorenskriver) office. The process had evolved from being a verbal procedure to, in reality, a written procedure. It was usual to have court a couple of times each month in the smaller court districts but, nearly every week day in the larger. From 1936 the terminology and court procedures were changed. Now the court documents were registered in a day journal when brought in and later entered into the official record. From that time the court was accessible every work day.
1. Nedrebø, Yngve, ”Til Almenhedens Kundskab”. Arkivmagasintet 1/08, (a publication of Arkivverket).