Norway eyes 'lex Breivik' to hike asylum security

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18:00 CEST+02:00
Norway on Friday proposed tightening security in mental wards with a measure dubbed "lex Breivik" after the man who killed 77 people last year and whose sanity is at the heart of his ongoing trial.

With the existing legislation, "there is no distinction between different levels of security," Health Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen said in a statement introducing the proposed amendments.

"The current act implies too great a risk for escape, hostage-taking and severe violence against patients and staff in the health institutions where particularly dangerous patients stay," she explained, adding "the government wishes to correct these shortcomings."

Discussions about the needed amendments began several years ago, but the process has been accelerated to ensure the new legislation will be in place before Anders Behring Breivik's trial ends at the end of June.

The 33-year-old right-wing extremist has been charged with committing terrorist acts when he bombed a government building in Oslo last July 22nd, killing eight people, then carried out a shooting massacre on the nearby Utøya island.

Dressed as a police officer, he spent more than an hour walking around the small island, ruthlessly executing frantic camp participants. Sixty-nine people died on the island, most of them teenagers.

Dubbed "lex Breivik" by the media, the amendments proposed Friday would make it possible to carry out more searches of patients, to control and limit their communication with the outside world and to search guests.

"The current regulations do not provide sufficient access to examine whether exceptionally dangerous patients bring dangerous objects such as knives, razor blades and firearms" into psychiatric institutions, the health ministry said.

The bill would also make it possible to create a psychiatric unit within a very high-security establishment, like a prison.

The planned changes have drawn criticism from judicial and psychiatric circles for seemingly being hastily tailor-made for Breivik, the question of whose sanity is the crux of his ongoing, 10-week trial.

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Two court-ordered evaluations have reached opposite conclusions, and in the end it will be up to the five judges to rule on the issue when they hand down their verdict in mid-July.

If the court finds him sane, Breivik will face Norway's maximum 21-year prison sentence, but that term can be extended for as long as he is considered a threat to society.

If he is found criminally insane however, he will be sent to a closed psychiatric care unit for treatment.

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