The basic principles
The Norwegian Constitution was adopted on 17 May 1814 and is the second oldest written constitution in the world. It was originally founded on the principles of:
- the sovereignty of the people
- the separation of powers
- human rights
The Constitution establishes three different branches of government:
- Legislative, budgetary and supervisory power is vested in the Storting (chapter C)
- Executive power is vested in the King in Council (chapter B)
- Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Courts and the subordinate courts, and in the Court of Impeachment (Riksretten) (chapter D)
The principle of popular sovereignty appears most explicitly in Article 49 and Article 75 of the Constitution. Here it is stated that the people issue laws, grant state funding, impose taxes and supervise the Government, through the Storting.
According to Article 3 of the Constitution, The Executive Power is vested in the King, or in the Queen. However, Royal resolutions are always adopted by the King in Council (Articles 27 and following). The countersignature of the Prime minister being a prerequisite for the validity of the above, political leadership is incontestably exercised by the Cabinet (the Government), on which the constitutional and parliamentary responsibility of the Executive is bestowed.
Under the terms of the Constitution, The King himself selects a Council from among Norwegian citizens entitled to vote (Article 12). Formally speaking, new ministers are appointed by the King in Council. In real terms, however, they are chosen according to political considerations within Parliament and the relevant political parties under the parliamentary system that has been operating for a century or so.
The system implies that the electorate, by electing the members of Parliament, indirectly decide which political forces are to govern. If the Storting by a formal vote expresses a lack of confidence in the Government, the Cabinet must submit a formal application to resign (see further in Article 15). Only when the necessary political considerations have been concluded, is the new Cabinet appointed by the King in Council.
From its inception, the corpus of the Constitution itself recognised a selection of fundamental human rights considered as being of particular importance at that time (see namely chapter E). Among the rights presently guaranteed by the Constitution, the aspects of the rule of law principle that no one may be convicted of a crime except according to law or punished except by virtue of a court judgement, the freedoms of speech and of religion, the right to vote, the protection of the value of your property and the ban on retroactive legislation may be mentioned. In recent years, a number of provisions regarding human rights have been added, including one on the freedom of information. To this should be added a number of more declarative rights, including Article 110, which states that the authorities are responsible for creating conditions that enable every person capable of work to earn a living and Article 110 a on the status of the Sami population.
At a different level, Article 110 c states that it is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to respect and ensure international human rights. Furthermore, the article prescribes that specific provision for the implementation of treaties on human rights may be determined by law. This power is used first and foremost through the 1999 Act Relating to the Status of Human Rights in Norwegian Law, which incorporates a number of important treaties on human rights into the domestic legal system on a general basis, including the European Convention of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Civil/Political and Economic/Social/Cultural Rights.
Even though the Constitution dates back to 1814, parts of it have been thoroughly revised and a majority of the provisions changed or added throughout the years. In the absence of a general revision, quite a few of the amendments (for example, regarding the electoral system as well as freedom of expression and of information) are important.
To this should be added a few important developments through practice, namely the introduction of an ex post system of judicial review of the constitutionality of legislation since the very first years of the constitutional epoch (see Article 88 on the final word of the Supreme Court in legal matters). As a matter of fact, this system also counts as the second oldest in the World still in existence.
A proposal to amend the text of the Constitution must be submitted to the Storting during one of the first three years of a four-year parliamentary term. Even if the right of initiative belongs to the government, such proposals are normally presented by individual members of Parliament.
Such proposals cannot be considered by the Storting until one of the first three years of the next parliamentary term, a system that provides an opportunity for the electorate to have its say through the election of the new Parliament. The proposal is considered by the Storting in a sitting in which at least two-thirds of the members of the Storting must be present to constitute a quorum. Of these, at least two-thirds must vote in favour of the proposal in order for it to be adopted.
After a full linguistic revision in 1903, the language of the Constitution basically remained unaltered until May 2014. During this period the 1903 norm was used when constitutional amendments were proposed.
Certain amendments were made to the Norwegian Constitution in May 2014
On 6 May, a full language revision of the Constitution was adopted. The result of this amendment is that there are now two equal Norwegian language versions of the Constitution – one in bokmål and one in nynorsk. Previously the language and spelling in the Constitution were based on a relatively conservative normalization of the language that was carried out in 1903. All subsequent constitutional amendments were formulated in this language form.
There are those that believe that the entire Constitution – not just the language but also the political content – is in need of revision. Others wish to keep it as close to its current form as possible. What we can call constitutional conservatism basically stems from a concern that a full-scale revision would entail far too much difficult debate and major problems in reaching any sort of agreement.
On 13 May 2014 a series of articles on human rights were enshrined in the Constitution.
The Bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution 2014