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Postgraduate course

Constitution and Politics

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterSpring
  • Course codeJUS286-2-A
  • Number of semesters1
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Resources

ECTS Credits

10 ECTS Credits

Level of Study



Full time

Teaching semester


Place of Instruction

Bergen Law Faculty

Objectives and Content

Political scientists are traditionally ambivalent towards constitutions, regarding them as a poor map to a country¿s political life. However, while the text itself might seem misleading to the lay reader, constitutions are rarely pure fiction. As the legal basis of all modern states, constitutions shape politics in numerous ways. Not least in times of crisis, the making and changing of constitutions are often at the heart of the struggle, and important tools for creating the basis for a common future.

This course aims to shed light on how constitutions shape and are shaped by politics, with a particular focus on the Norwegian constitution ¿ Grunnloven of 1814, which is the second oldest written constitution still in force, although significantly revised in May 2014, for the bicentenary celebration. The students will be introduced to Norwegian Constitutional law, its foundations, the political processes in which it is embedded, and current challenges ¿ all in a comparative context. The course is an interdisciplinary project between the Faculty of Social Sciences, department of Comparative Politics and the Faculty of Law, and addresses the topic both from a legal and a social science perspective. The lectures will be given by teachers from both faculties, as well as invited guests. The aim is to bring together students who share an interest in constitutional matters in the conjunction between law and politics, but who rarely meet in the spaces created by the university.

The course will introduce students to ongoing research on central aspects of constitutional development and bring students up to date on the frontiers of research and literature in the field, encourage active participation and independent thinking in engaging with the issues, and provide a forum for students to exchange ideas and reflections. The student will get an overview of the research literature on the Norwegian constitution, and the relationship between rule of law and democracy in Norway and compared with other countries. A constitution is an outcome of political activity, and at the same time it constitutes rules and arenas for politics, establishing the boundaries for all branches of the state, including the parliament, the central administrative apparatus and the courts. The students will engage with the main theoretical perspectives to understand the dilemmas involved in securing the rule of law in a modern state, and the checks and balances between the executive, the legislator and the courts.

The constitution is the legal basis of all modern states, and in Norway the written constitution plays an important role and will serve as a fulcrum for the discussions in the course. The executive power is vested with the King and the government, the legislative power lies in the parliament, while the judicative power is conferred to a single court system, with the Supreme Court in Oslo. A special feature in Norway has been to amend its old 1814 constitution instead of adopting a new one as society and the political system evolve. Since 1814, the constitution has been amended more than 300 times. Yet even after the linguistic overhaul and the modernization of the protection of human rights in 2014, the constitution contains many traces of its 19th century origins. Due to its old age and its many amendments, the Norwegian constitution requires careful interpretation. Another particularity is the historically strong position of customary law. The question is then how these features of Norwegian constitutional law fits with those we find in other jurisdictions.

The course will give an introduction to the principles and the architecture of three bodies of the state, and the checks and balances between them. Historically, the struggle for constitutional power was between the King and the parliament, where the latter in the end prevailed. An ongoing constitutional discussion is related to juridification and judicialization and issues of accountability. Contentious political issues regularly end up in court as constitutional challenges, in Norway, and even more in other countries. The course discusses different perspectives on the constitution as a tool for social change and an arena for politics. This has partly a national component where courts are setting aside parliamentary decisions due to constitutional norms, but the forefront of this discussion is the influx of international norms, like the European Convention of Human Rights and the Agreement on the European Economic Area (which affiliates Norway to the EU). Another constitutional development relates to the growth of different forms of accountability mechanism, like the different ombudsmen and the strengthened position of the Office of the Auditor General. Norway added a new National Institution for Human Rights in 2015.

One aim of the course is to give an introduction of the "living constitution", which not only consists of formal constitutional law, but also includes the role of political parties, the central government apparatus, the corporative arrangements and the principle of local self-government. The course will discuss constitutional politics focusing on reforms and changes in the relationships between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. As previously stated, the Norwegian constitution will be put in perspective by using examples from other jurisdictions when appropriate, and the literature covers different models of constitution-making.

The course also provides opportunities to meet practitioners engaged in bringing the constitution to bear on politics and practice: in the courts and other accountability mechanisms

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the students should be able to display insights into how law and legal institutions constitute, shape and constrain political action under the Norwegian constitution, and how the legal institutions themselves are shaped by the political and social context. They should demonstrate a good understanding of central concepts and theoretical debates such as separation of power, rule of law and access to courts and be able to analyze how legal and political institutions affect society.

Required Previous Knowledge

Bachelor's degree in political sciences (or equivalent)
completed third year of master studies in law (or equivalent).

Recommended Previous Knowledge

Bachelor's degree in political sciences (or equivalent)
completed third year of master studies in law (or equivalent).

Access to the Course

The course is available for the following students:

  • Admitted to the integrated master programme in law
  • Admitted to the two-year master programme in law
  • Granted admission to elective courses at the Faculty of Law
  • Granted additional right to study following completed master degree in law at UiB
  • Exchange students at the Faculty of Law

The pre-requirements may still limit certain students' access to the course

Teaching Methods and Extent of Organized Teaching

Lectures and seminars.

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Group presentation

Forms of Assessment

Home exam.

Exam only in semesters with teaching.

Information about digital examination can be found here:www.uib.no/en/education/87471/digital-examinationwww.uib.no/en/education/87471/digital-examination


Exam language:

  • Question paper: English
  • Answer paper: English

Examination Support Material

Support materials allowed during exam:

See section 3-5 of the Supplementary Regulations for Studies at the Faculty of Law at the University of Bergen.

Special regulations about dictionaries at school exam

  • According to the Regulations for Studies, one dictionary is permitted support material during the examination. Bilingual dictionaries containing for example both Norwegian-English and English-Norwegian are considered as one dictionary.
  • Bilingual dictionaries to/from the same two languages - for example Norwegian-English/English-Norwegian - in two different volumes are also considered as one dictionary (irrespective of publisher or edition).
  • Dictionaries as described above cannot be combined with any other types of dictionaries.
  • Any kind of combination which makes up more than two physical volumes is forbidden.
  • In case a student has a special need for any other combination than the above mentioned, such combination has to be clarified with/approved by the course coordinator minimum two weeks before the exam. Students who have not been granted permission to have a special combination minimum two weeks before the exam will be subject to the usual regulations (Section 3-5) about examination support materials.

Grading Scale

A - E for passed, F for failed.

Subject Overlap

No overlapping with courses at the Law Faculty.

The course has partly the same themes as JUS281-2-A (Comparative Constitutional Law), but the overlap is limited. In JUS281-2-A the Norwegian Constitution is one of several constitutions included as object of comparison, while on this course the Norwegian constitution is the main object. Approaches are also different as this course draws on both legal and social perspectives.

The course has points in common with JUS121 (Norwegian and international legal institutions), but this course gives a short introduction to the Norwegian Constitution and tasks between states.

Course Evaluation

According to faculty routines.


Contact Information

Esmeralda Colombo (jus) and Siri Gloppen (sam. pol.)

Contact information: elective-courses@jurfa.uib.no