Vol. 16 No. 1 (2024): Mental Health & Wellbeing

Forensic Psychiatry in the Quisling, Hamsun and Breivik Trials

Robert M Kaplan MBChB FRANZCP MA MPhil
Western Sydney University, Australia

Published 2024-03-06


  • Forensic psychiatry,
  • Vidkun Quisling,
  • Knut Hamsun,
  • Anders Brevik,
  • Peter Sutcliffe,
  • Nondelusional beliefs
  • ...More

How to Cite

Kaplan, R. M. (2024). Forensic Psychiatry in the Quisling, Hamsun and Breivik Trials. Sushruta Journal of Health Policy & Opinion, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.38192/16.1.4


The 2011 trial of Andreas Breivik for the mass murder of 69 Norwegian adolescents (plus eight people in an earlier bombing) was dominated by intense debate about his sanity, both in the court and public arenas. Similar controversies arose in two previous high-profile cases: the 1945 trial of the Norwegian collaborator Vidkun Quisling and the 1946 trial of the Nobel Prize winner Kurt Hamsun. Quisling, Hamsun and Breivik were all required to have psychiatric assessment. The findings were intensely disputed. The first assessments produced results the public found unacceptable. After a lengthy and controversial examination, Hamsun was exempted from a criminal trial but had to face a civil procedure in which he lost most of his savings. The public reaction in Breivik’s case went the other way: that he could be exempt from punishment by psychiatric illness caused such fury that legal protocol was overturned, and he was assessed again, this time producing a finding that all found satisfactory. Psychiatric issues in the three trials reviewed show remarkable symmetry, although also with some differences. Issues raised at these trials are the role of public pressure, the conflict between the belief that the perpetrators had to be mad to do what they did and the desire that they not escape due to punishment by psychiatric confinement and the recurrent problem in forensic assessment of assessing extreme overvalue beliefs. The forensic aspects at the trial of Peter Sutcliffe show that these issues were not unique to the Norwegian legal system.


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