The lawyer with the challenge of defending the indefensible

Tony Paterson
Wednesday 27 July 2011 00:00 BST

Geir Lippestad has taken on a seemingly impossible task. The 47-year-old Oslo lawyer is defence counsel for Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian who last Friday committed his country's worst single act of violence since the Second World War.

Is it possible to defend somebody such as Mr Breivik? Mr Lippestad thinks so, though he admitted yesterday that it took him between 10 and 12 hours to agree to take on the job after being notified by the police that the mass murderer had asked for his services. "I sat down with my friends and discussed this request," Mr Lippestad said. "At first I thought it was impossible, then I came to the conclusion that if I say no to this I am actually saying no to democracy."

"Everyone has the right to a defence lawyer," is the mantra that the former local politician has been repeating incessantly to those who have interviewed him since Friday.

Yet with his dark suits, black ties and dour facial expression he shows every sign of having complete sympathy with the victims of his client's actions rather than with Mr Breivik himself.

What makes his decision to defend Mr Breivik even more extraordinary is that Mr Lippestad has been a member of the Norwegian Labour Party for years. His client spent last Friday systematically murdering members of the party's youth wing because he believed they were encouraging multiculturalism and the "Muslim domination" of Norway.

But Mr Lippestad said he would not be a lawyer if he did not firmly believe the right to a legal defence is one of the fundamental principles of democracy and an independent judiciary. He has already put his convictions to the test. A decade ago, Norway experienced its most horrific act of post-war right-wing violence when a Neo-Nazi gang called the "Boot Boys" brutally murdered a 16-year-old Norwegian boy of Ghanaian descent. Benjamin Hermansen was found stabbed to death in the Holmlia district of Oslo. The racist murder prompted tens of thousands of ordinary Norwegians to take to the streets in protest across the country.

Mr Lippestad acted as defence counsel for Ole Nicolai Kvisler, one of the three right-wing extremists convicted of Mr Hermansen's murder. He was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for the killing. His current client is likely to face a longer jail term.

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