The legislative powers of the police to stop individuals

There are several laws that allow the police to conduct an identity check. They have widely different purposes: traffic security; immigration administration; public order; and investigation. The terms of reference is also broad, from the principle of sufficient grounds to suspicion in criminal activity. They have different rules on who can authorise identity checks. Above the street-level, judicial representatives, police chiefs and courts can authorise ‘random’ checks related to concerns about, for example, knife crime. These checks are regulated by different rights for the people checked and different rules on follow-up and regulation. The main laws are found under the following Norwegian laws: Traffic Code §10; Criminal Procedure §§157, 171, 178, 195 and 203; Police Law §§7, 7a, 10(1), 10(2), 10(3), 12(5); Immigration Administration §§ 21, 103, 104, 106; and Criminal Procedure §162. >

The grounds for a body search are detailed in Criminal Procedure §§157 and 195, and for a search for identity in Immigration Administration §37. Police Law §7a details the grounds for a search following an identity check and for weapons. The Director General of Public Prosecution (Riksadvokaten) has specified that grounds must be based on more than the person alone and must be tied to the time, place and context. The police chief should also ensure powers are used in relation to specific priorities and situations. In short, the use of the power to stop is frequently used by the police. For instance, stops can lead to searches and, in turn, lead to arrests. The stop of a person may also lead to searches in the police register.

The obligation to register stops

Locally, within police districts, the police register their activities in the police log. However, there are different regulations on reporting, dependent on the type of control, from nothing (informal communication) to formal reporting. In the day-to-day activity, where a police officer stops and checks a person’s identity, there is no formal reporting mechanisms. However, if a person is found to be connected to a criminal offence, there are formal reporting systems. The same procedure applies to immigration checks that reveal non-citizens staying illegally. Due to Frontex requirements, immigration controls with positive hits are to be registered, but not ID checks that reveal nothing. Ethnicity is not recorded because of data protection and privacy legislation. Through multi-agency investigation teams, the police are increasingly practicing third-party policing to control cross-jurisdictional crimes by the interchangeable use of criminal and administrative law. Such collaborations enable agencies to pool stop powers and undermine the protection afforded by sometimes conflicting aims and interests.

Legislation procedures which protect citizens from police offences

There are several procedures for the oversight of the police. Where the sole purpose is to control the police, there are both internal and external control mechanisms, though internal mechanisms are largely in place only in the larger cities.

Internally in the police, there is a police complaint system (Politiets klageordning), the districts’ arrest supervision (politidistriktenes arresttilsyn), the central arrest supervision (det sentrale arresttilsyn) and the disciplinary system (displinærsystemet). Complaints concerning police behaviour that does not constitute a criminal offence will be handled internally by the police. Externally, there is the Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs (Spesialenheten for politisaker). This Bureau investigates complaints where employees of the police or prosecuting authority are accused or suspected of a criminal offence. The special unit was set up by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Parliament in 2005. On a basic level, the police officers have identity number on their uniform that the person can note and make a complaint about mistreatment. Body-worn video has not been introduced in Norway.

An evaluation of the complaints systems noted an average of 700-800 complaints each year since the system was set up in 2006. Complaints mainly (60%) concern the handling of the interaction, and particularly police behaviour and communication. An average of 13-24 complaints each year concerned discrimination, of which 80% concerned discrimination on grounds of ethnicity.

For more broader accountability and democratic control of the police, where the police are one of several actors involved in checks, there are numerous procedures. Three of the most relevant authorities are:

The Higher Prosecuting Authorities – The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Regional Public Prosecution Offices;

Ombudsman – appointed by the Norwegian Parliament to safeguard the rights of individual citizens in their dealings with public administration

the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombudsman.

In addition, numerous NGOs and civil society organizations can be contacted.


Annotated bibliography on Norway

Podcast Vos papiers s’il vous plait! – Police stop & search in Finland and Norway – the ‘Nordic’ way

Blog Understanding the Experience of Police Stops in Europe

Blog Understanding the Practice of Police Stops in Europe