10 May 2020

The importance of freedom of expression, illustrated from "child protection" in Samnanger municipality in Norway

By Marianne Haslev Skånland

From the little municipality of
Samnanger, just east of Bergen, has come a comprehensive report about 3 child protection cases showing children and their families to have suffered grave and prolonged harm from the actions of the Norwegian child protection service (official name: Child Welfare Services).

The municipality has commissioned a thorough, investigative report, carried out by the lawyers Thea Totland and Geir Kjell Andersland. Their 71 pages long report, finalised in April 2020, is very detailed and very clear. Some media interviews and articles about it have appeared, but it needs to become better known still.

The report and the question of what the consequences should be were taken up for discussion at the meeting of the municipal politicians on 30 April 2020:
Recording of the municipal meeting on 30 April 2020

The report was published right after the municipality received it, in accordance with ordinary rules regarding public documents, and was entered on the municipality's website. As can be heard from the municipal head administrator at the meeting on 30 April, it was temporarily withdrawn, because of a complaint from a foster mother and a recommendation from the County Governor (the state's head representative in a county) that one should be reticent, but at the meeting it was decided that it should again be available on the municipality's website. (The County Governor is himself criticised in the report.) The three families are in any case anonymous in the report.

About the report:
Sluttrapport gransking barnevernet

The report:
Gransking av tre barnevernsaker
Samnanger kommune

Again, this is a document in official administration, published in its entirety, so it is to be accessible for reading, copying (downloading or on paper), commenting and also re-publishing. For such purposes it will be very useful indeed for understanding what goes by the name of 'child expert evaluations' in the Norwegian child protection Barnevernet.

The report's description has parallels in all parts of the country, unfortunately. At the same time that the report from Samnanger gives an appalling description of Barnevernet's destruction of families, it says nothing but what numerous victims of Barnevernet have for several decades given details of from their own cases. They have not been believed and their accounts have been trivialised.

It is extremely important to have all this clearly and openly presented. Samnanger municipality has done the completely right thing in deciding not to try to hide away this investigative report about child protection cases.


Those in Samnanger who have fought for truthful publicising can find support in judgments from the
European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning freedom of expression. The judgments are easily accessible and searchable at the ECtHR's website Hudoc.

The ECtHR passes judgments based on the
European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

Article 10 in the convention is about freedom of expression. It has a central, to some degree superordinate, place in the convention, because it serves to make it possible for other human rights to be carried out in practice. The ECHR has also, at long last, been incorporated in Norwegian legislation.

Concerning freedom of expression our
constitution has §100, which states: "Everyone has a right of access to documents of the State and municipalities and a right to follow the proceedings of the courts and democratically elected bodies." There are restrictions pertaining to the rights of individuals to have their privacy respected, but it nevertheless says: "The authorities of the state shall create conditions that facilitate open and enlightened public discourse."

But for the actual practice of freedom of expression and what it should be like, we should go the the ECtHR, which is our highest court in human rights matters. In several judgments the Court emphasises how important freedom of expression is
and why. It is 'necessary in a democratic society' because it is necessary in order to create a democratic society, a society under the rule of law for the members of society. Human rights are for individuals, who must be protected against injustice and abuse, especially from the protected authorities of their own country. When every other road is blocked or fails, then freedom expression is all that is left as a defense. And it is a right for individuals, trying to defend themselves and their fellow human beings, not only for the official press.

The ECtHR also makes it clear that not only do people have the right to impart information about important and controversial things, the public has an equal right to receive such information. Again: it is necessary in order to have the kind of society we want to live in. How otherwise can anybody take action? When injustices take place, it must be made known and understood, or it cannot be counteracted and prevented from recurring.

In the ECtHR case of
Thorgeir Thorgeirson against Iceland, 1992, the Court says:

"63. The Court recalls that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society; subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10 (art. 10-2), it is applicable not only to "information" or "ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10 (art. 10), is subject to a number of exceptions which, however, must be narrowly interpreted and the necessity for any restrictions must be convincingly established (see the Observer and Guardian v. the United Kingdom judgment of 26 November 1991, Series A no. 216, pp. 29-30, para. 59)."

About the press:
"In the present case, the applicant expressed his views by having them published in a newspaper. Regard must therefore be had to the pre-eminent role of the press in a State governed by the rule of law (see the Castells v. Spain judgment of 23 April 1992, Series A no. 236, p. 23, para. 43). Whilst the press must not overstep the bounds set, inter alia, for "the protection of the reputation of ... others", it is nevertheless incumbent on it to impart information and ideas on matters of public interest. Not only does it have the task of imparting such information and ideas: the public also has a right to receive them. Were it otherwise, the press would be unable to play its vital role of "public watchdog" (see the above-mentioned Observer and Guardian judgment, pp. 29-30, para. 59)."

From the case of
De Haes and Gijsels against Belgium, 1997:

"37. The Court reiterates that the press plays an essential role in a democratic society. Although it must not overstep certain bounds, in particular in respect of the reputation and rights of others, its duty is nevertheless to impart - in a manner consistent with its obligations and responsibilities - information and ideas on all matters of public interest, including those relating to the functioning of the judiciary. ..."

"48. Although Mr De Haes and Mr Gijsels’ comments were without doubt severely critical, they nevertheless appear proportionate to the stir and indignation caused by the matters alleged in their articles. As to the journalists’ polemical and even aggressive tone, which the Court should not be taken to approve, it must be remembered that Article 10 (art. 10) protects not only the substance of the ideas and information expressed but also the form in which they are conveyed (see, as the most recent authority, the Jersild judgment cited above, p. 23, para. 31)."

Norway has been found guilty several times of violating the right to freedom of expression. An example is the case which the newspaper Bergens Tidende brought against Norway:
Bergens Tidende and others against Norway, 2000. The conclusion of the ECtHR's judgment:

"60. In the light of the above, the Court cannot find that the undoubted interest of Dr R. in protecting his professional reputation was sufficient to outweigh the important public interest in the freedom of the press to impart information on matters of legitimate public concern. In short, the reasons relied on by the respondent State, although relevant, are not sufficient to show that the interference complained of was “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court considers that there was no reasonable relationship of proportionality between the restrictions placed by the measures applied by the Supreme Court on the applicants' right to freedom of expression and the legitimate aim pursued.

Accordingly, there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention."


Samnanger's mayor Mr Frøland and the attorney Mr Andersland quite rightly recently concluded regarding the report: Confidentiality does not exist in order to protect municipalities or their employees. If anything, it is to protect the families themselves.

But in child protection cases, open information to the public is in fact what protects children and families, not all the hidden information and disinformation circulating among the official 'child services'. What these experts on children do, with their licenced power, is exactly what must be made visible for the population.

The ECtHR has recently actually woken up very markedly regarding European, not least Norwegian, child protection. We see from a series of judgments, which have found Norway guilty of grave violations of human rights in misguided child protection, that Samnanger is far from alone, despite the seriousness of the cases investigated in the present report. 7 of these judgments are recent (fn 1). A further two dozen or more child protection cases against Norway are up for consideration in the ECtHR. Serious judgments against other countries have also been passed for actions resembling exactly those practiced by Norwegian Barnevernet (fn 2).

The Norwegian Child Welfare Services, not only in Samnanger, is in such a mess, and has long been, that only firm exercise of freedom of expression has a chance of stopping inappropriate 'protection' of children. The Norwegian authorities will not yet take the realities seriously, neither all the information from affected families nor that from the ECtHR judgments. Instead they try silence, misinterpretation, explaining away, trivialising, stubbornness, denial, blaming victims, and continuing their practice as before. That is why speaking and writing truthfully seems the only possible help. The victims of harmful child 'protection', children as well as their families, have tried to get through for several decades. At long last there is a majority of politicians in a municipality going ahead and showing the public what is going on, who is to be protected, and how.

It is strongly to be hoped that politicians in other municipalities understand the importance of Samnanger's present achievment, and follow up with real reports based on real investigations of their own child protection units. Open investigations, carried out
not by Barnevernet's supporters and defenders, are necessary.


footnote 1

Convictions of Norway in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in cases concerning child protection (Barnevern)
Updated on 12 March 2020

(Merlita and Terje)
Pedersen and others v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 10 March 2020

Hernehult v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 10 March 2020

Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 17 December 2019

A.S. v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 17 December 2019

K.O. and V.M. v. Norway  (Ken Olsen and Vibeke Morrissey)
European Court of Human Rights, 19 November 2019

Grand Chamber judgment (key case):
Strand Lobben and others v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 10 September 2019

Grand Chamber hearing:
Strand Lobben and Others v. Norway (no. 37283/13)
European Court of Human Rights, 17 October 2018

Jansen v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 6 September 2018

Johansen v. Norway
European Court of Human Rights, 27 June 1996

footnote 2

The Norwegian state's interpretation of the ECtHR judgments about our child protection Barnevernet


See also

Chris Reimers:
Landmark Report Exposes the Realities of Norwegian Child Protection
Wings of the Wind, 10 May 2020

Nils Morten Udgaard:
Norway and civil society
MHS's home page, 13 November 2016

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Political program for child protection in local administration
(Note: Point 19)
MHS's home page, 10 March 2012

 – :  
Paying out compensation while creating the basis for more claims
MHS's home page, 24 March 2016

 – :  Norwegian Supreme Court judgment: A father is to go to jail for 5 months for having kept his daughter away from the cps Barnevernet
MHS's home page, 7 June 2017

Erik Rolfsen:
Child protection and the emperor's new clothes
MHS's home page, 15 September 2015

Arne Seland:
A recipe for disaster
MHS's home page, 10 May 2016

Olav Sylte:
After 12 months: 12 new serious miscarriages of justice
MHS's home page, 24 September 2018

Articles in Norwegian about the Samnanger cases and the present developments (some are behind pay-walls):

Fylkesmannen vil fjerne barnevernsrapport fra kommunens nettsider
(The County Governor wants to remove child protection report from the website of the municipality)
Bergens Tidende
, 10 mai 2020

Thea Totland og Geir Kjell Andersland:
Grove feil viser vei
(Crass errors show the way forward)
, 2 mai 2020

Elden skal finna ut om kommunen kan saksøka eigne tilsette
(Elden is to find out whether the municipality can take its own employees to court
After the devastating Barnevern report in Samnanger, the municipality contemplates suing individual persons. Professor of law Jan Fridthjof Bernt considers that the consequences can be problematic.)
nrk Vestland, 5 mai 2020

Varsler unikt oppgjør med barnevernet
Kommune vurderer å saksøke tidligere ansatte etter knusende granskingsrapport

(Announces unique action against Barnevernet.
Municipality considers taking former employees to court after devastating investigative report)

Dagbladet, 2 mai 2020

Åpner for å saksøke barnevernsansatte
(Opens for suing Barnevern employees)
tv2, 6 mai 2020

Ragnar Larsen:
Personlig ansvar må gjelde også offentlig ansatte
(Personal responsibility must apply to public employees as well)
Document.no, 5 mai 2020

Flere grove feil da Edvin ble fratatt ungene:
– Jeg får kanskje aldri vite hvorfor

(Several grave errors when the children were taken away from Edvin
– I will maybe never get to know why)

tv2, 2-3 mai 2020

Var syv år da barnevernet frarøvet henne barndommen
(Was seven years old when Barnevernet robbed her of her childhood)
tv2, 10 mai 2020

Begynte å skada seg etter overgrep og tvang
(Started self-injury after abuse and coercion)
Samningen, 30 april 2020

Brørne blei feilaktig henta av barnevernet: – Eg hadde få vener. Så mista eg familien
(The brothers were wrongly taken by Barnevernet: – I had few friends. Then I lost my family)
nrk Vestland, 9 mai 2020

Samnanger får kraftig kritikk i rapport: Offentlig omsorg har ødelagt barndommen og ungdommen hennes
(Samnanger is severely criticised in report: Public care has destroyed her childhood and youth)
Bergens Tidende
, 24 april 2020

Viste mistillit til barnevernet med fakkeltog
(Showed dissatisfaction through torchlight procession)
nrk Vestland, 12 februar 2013

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Samnanger med fantastisk innsats mot overgrep fra barnevernet
(Samnanger with fantastic effort against abuse from Barnevernet)
MHS's hjemmeside, 4 september 2019