Speech by Nils Klim Prize Laureate Jørn Jacobsen, held at the award ceremony on 8 June 2011

Your Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon, Minister, Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund, Nils Klim Prize Academic Committee, ladies and gentlemen

Jacobsen taler

It is a tremendous honour for me to stand here today, before his Royal Highness, my Rector, my Dean, the Minister of Research and Higher Education, the chairman of the Holberg International Memorial Fund, this year’s Holberg Prize Laureate - one of the contemporary most significant representatives of the German academic tradition that I have taken such massive impressions of – and this esteemed audience in general.

It makes also particular impression on me to receive the Nils Klim Prize here in Håkonshallen. This building, where Norway received its first legal code, is indeed an impressive symbol of the state, its power and authority. At the same time it is Holberg that we honour here today. One of Holberg’s most important intellectual endeavours was precisely his contribution to natural law, an influential attempt at explaining and limiting power in a political community. So Holberg in Håkonshallen is indeed a neat picture for the criminal law, my area of research: The criminal law – at some level a seemingly necessary institution for having a well-ordered society – has for a long time been the strongest expression of the authority of the state, loaded with symbols, rituals and fundamental dimensions of moral blame and hard treatment of individuals. But it is also a phenomenon that has an inherent tendency to evolve beyond its own legitimate framework and a long history of itself turning into brutality and abuse, the very phenomenon itself seeks to prevent. Hence, keeping the criminal law within its proper form is a task of massive importance for society.

Now, not least due to the claims of humanity and rationality in the criminal law, held forth for instance by natural law and enlightenment philosophers and the criminal law science, we have come a long way towards a criminal law that not only protects the citizens, to the extent possible, from crime, but also from the state’s abuse of power by means of the criminal law itself. Still, it would be a mistake to think that this task is now completed. It is rather a continuous task, given continuously new social settings, to reinterpret the basic form of the democratic Rechtsstaat and to exchange it into a criminal law with its complex legal solutions. Today, this challenge is most pressing in the constitution of an international criminal law in order to create a just and stable global political community, a process where the criminal law science plays a fundamentally important role.

I have sought to give my reinterpretation of the criminal law of the democratic Rechtsstaat. If I have been successful, I should express my gratitude to the research group in criminal law here at the Faculty of Law, a research environment with immediate possibility of becoming internationally recognized and also the most important international voice of Nordic criminal law with its emphasis on rationality and humanity. My experience of this group as a growing family comes not only down to the fact that my wife is also a part of it.

And I am also obliged to express my profound gratitude to my tutor, Professor Emeritus Nils Jareborg from Uppsala, and to the management at the Faculty of Law, represented by the two Deans I have served under, Professor Ernst Nordtveit and Professor Asbjørn Strandbakken, and also Faculty Director Eivind Buanes. Everyone who has tried knows what a difficult task it is to climb on the shoulders of giants. It requires time and effort; it meets unpredicted challenges, drawbacks and sometimes simply stops; it produces disappointment; sometimes it requires rethinking and new routes. But also, it benefits in a distinct way from having experienced such challenges and is best helped by a great portion of patience, belief, encouragement and freedom. And in this regard, I have been massively fortunate to serve under a management that so profoundly has acknowledged this wisdom. The support I have received has certainly been a conditio sine qua non for me standing here today. Thank you, and thank you all for your attention.

Dr. Jørn Jacobsen Nils Klim Prize Laureate 2011