- Det er sånn det må være

Birgit Lie. Fotograf John Petter Thorsen

The duty to avert criminal acts may involve making difficult choices, even for professionals such as doctors and teachers.

The purpose of the duty to avert criminal acts is to prevent abuse and violence. For medical personnel, the duty to avert criminal acts takes precedence over the duty of confidentiality.

For many who work in the healthcare sector, there is a difficult balance between protecting the patient and the requirements of the duty to avert criminal acts, and it is easy to think that you are protecting the patient if you do not report something that could have negative consequences. But is that the right choice?

Birgit Lie has been a doctor for many years. She is Head of Department at the Specialised Outpatient Clinic for Psychosomatics and Trauma at Sørlandet Hospital. Over the years in the national health service, she has had to make difficult decisions a number of times.

“Of course it is very difficult. If you have a patient with whom you build trust, reporting to Child Welfare Services or the police about something you have learned as their doctor can be perceived as a breach of trust. The patient could easily perceive it as a betrayal. At the same time, if you are going to treat trauma, you cannot succeed if the patient is exposed to ongoing trauma or abuse,” says Lie.

Throughout her career, Lie has participated in the development of several agencies and services, including the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies. As a doctor and a manager in the healthcare sector, Lie has first-hand experience of the dilemma of being in a situation where you must consider both a patient and a law that says that you must report what you know.

“What may sound difficult is actually quite simple. The law is there because it has to be there. We cannot allow doctors or other healthcare professionals to know that patients are being subjected to serious violence or abuse without trying to stop it. It would be an impossible situation if you had to decide what to do case-by-case. If you know that a person is the victim of a criminal act, then you have only one choice – and that is to report the offence,” says Lie.

Lie also points out that, in the psychiatric health service, there may be situations where a patient receiving treatment for traumas caused by abuse or having lived with violence over time is still being subjected to similar abuse.

“Then it is impossible to treat those traumas. It is quite simply impossible. So, in those cases, reporting is also necessary to be able to succeed in providing the health services the patient needs,” she says.

For many, the duty to avert criminal acts, and Section 196 of the Norwegian Penal Code, is a vague provision – but for Lie, the law is simple: Everyone, including professionals, has a duty to try to avert situations where someone is the victim of domestic violence, incest or the like.

“We have a law that is crystal clear, as I see it. It is something you just have to deal with,” she concludes.

Are you unsure if you have a duty to avert a criminal act? Here are five questions that may be helpful.

  1. Is it a serious criminal offence?
    The duty to avert criminal acts applies in situations where there is a risk of rape, murder, domestic violence or sexual abuse of children. These are acts covered by Section 196 of the Norwegian Penal Code.
  1. Do you know or suspect that the offence will take place?
    Sometimes you are certain, while other times you may have a nagging suspicion. It is enough that you believe it is likely that the offence will occur. Then you have a duty to avert the offence. You also have this duty if you believe there is a risk of a recurring offence.
  1. Is it possible to avert the offence?
    If you can, try to prevent the offence from occurring. If it has already taken place, you have a duty to prevent injuries and other consequences.
  1. Can I avert the offence without exposing myself or other innocent people to danger?
    You do not have a duty to avert an offence if to do so would involve endangering life and health.
  1. Can I avert the offence without being prosecuted or charged myself?
    No one has a duty to risk criminal charges against themselves or any other innocent person. If you believe that you may be prosecuted, you must try to avert the offence in some way other than notifying the police. PLEASE NOTE that this does not apply if the victim is a minor and the person who fails to avert the offence is the child’s caregiver. Then you must avert the offence even if you or others may risk prosecution or criminal charges.

– If the answer to all of these questions is “Yes”, you have a duty to notify the police or otherwise seek to avert the offence. Remember that the duty to avert a criminal act always takes precedence over a duty of confidentiality.

In emergency situations and in case of mortal danger, call the police on 112.

You can contact your local police on 02800.

If children are involved, also contact Child Welfare Services.