The Labour Court was created by Norway’s first Act relating to Labour Disputes of 6 August 1915. The court took up its duties with effect from 1 January 1916, the date when the new Act entered into force. The Labour Court has territorial jurisdiction over all of Norway and is the highest court in its field.


Before the Labour Disputes Act of 1915

Before the Labour Disputes Act of 1915, the ordinary courts had jurisdiction in all legal disputes concerning collective agreements. However, such disputes were rarely brought before the courts. The parties to the collective agreement chose to either let the threat of industrial action hang over the party in breach of the agreement, or the dispute was brought before an arbitration tribunal.
It was the trade unions that first raised the question of mediation and arbitration in labour disputes in the 1880s. In 1912, the Government considered mediation and arbitration for the first time. This marked the beginning of a lengthy legislative process that finally resulted in the Labour Disputes Act of 1915.

The Labour Disputes Act of 1915

The Act entered into force on 1 January 1916, and the Labour Court came into being from the same date. The Labour Disputes Act provided for a specialist court to consider labour disputes, i.e. disputes concerning the existence, interpretation and validity of collective agreements. The reason why a specialist court was established to deal with such disputes was, firstly, the need to settle them rapidly, and, secondly, that the disputes should be considered by a court that was familiar with this area of society.

The Labour Disputes Acts of 1927 and 2012

The Act of 1915 was replaced by Act No 1 of 5 May 1927 relating to Labour Disputes, which in turn was replaced by the Labour Disputes Act currently in force, Act No 2 of 27 January 2012 relating to Labour Disputes. The substantive rules of the 1915 Act were largely retained in the subsequent acts. The Act of 2012 was structured differently and its language was modernised, and it allows for electronic communication.

The court and its field of law

The Labour Court’s field is defined and delimited. It covers all disputes concerning collective agreements as such. This includes disputes on the interpretation and application, validity and existence of collective agreements. It also covers disputes concerning breaches of collective agreements, including industrial action and the peace obligation, and disputes concerning liability in damages for breaches of collective agreements.

The court's jurisdiction has always included the private sector in its entirety, while in the public sector, the legislation originally only applied to certain categories of state and municipal employees. In 1957, the scope of the Act was expanded to include all municipal employees. The Civil Service Disputes Act of 1958 brought a final and considerable expansion, as it formally established a collective agreement system for civil servants and for teaching staff in the state school system. From then on, the Labour Court’s field has included both the private and public sectors in their entirety.

There have been some minor thematic changes. In 1966, breaches of the statutory peace obligation became part of the court’s area of responsibility. Corresponding changes were implemented in relation to the Civil Service Disputes Act in 1969, when disputes concerning the interpretation of the provisions of the Civil Service Disputes Act became the court’s responsibility. However, disputes concerning interpretation of the provisions of the Labour Disputes Act in general do not fall under the court's jurisdiction.

The most important change took place during the period from 1977 to 1981, when the Labour Court was the appellate court for cases concerning employment protection (dismissal with and without notice) pursuant to the Working Environment Act of 1977 and the Civil Service Act of 1977. In 1981, responsibility for these cases was returned to the ordinary courts.

The Labour Court and local labour courts

From 1937 and until the Act of 2012 came into force, the Labour Disputes Act provided for local labour courts. In disputes concerning collective agreements with individual enterprises or regional employers’ associations, cases were heard by the municipal courts, now called district courts, as the court of first instance, with the Labour Court as the appellate court. In such cases, the district courts functioned as local labour courts and dealt with cases in accordance with the provisions of the Labour Disputes Act. This arrangement only applied to cases under the Labour Disputes Act. The Civil Service Disputes Act had no corresponding provisions.


Permanent judges

Initially, the Labour Court had one professional judge. When hearing cases, the court comprised the president and four other members appointed on the basis of nominations by the social partners. The rules governing the composition of the court were amended by the 1927 Labour Disputes Act. The new rules required that a case be presided over by seven judges: three professional judges and four judges appointed based on nominations from the social partners.
The right to nominate judges is regulated in Section 39 of the current Act. Employers’ associations comprising at least 100 employers that, together, employ at least 10,000 employees, and trade unions with at least 10,000 employees as members, have the right to nominate judges. Organisations that meet these requirements can nominate two judges with deputy judges to the Labour Court. The judges appointed based on nominations from the organisations are judges on a par with other Labour Court judges. They are also subject to the requirement that they must not be members of the board/executive committee of a trade union or employers' association or be employees of such an organisation, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 36 first paragraph.

From the court’s establishment in 1916 until 31 August 1954, the position of president of the Labour Court was organised as a secondary position. The position was converted into a primary position with effect from 1 September 1954, when the then President Emil Stang stepped down as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The position has since been a primary position, but was filled as a secondary position during the periods when Kristen Andersen was president of the court. The first vice president was appointed in 1962. In 1996, vice president became a full-time position. The third professional judge was employed in a secondary position until 1 March 2007. The custom was to appoint a court of appeal judge to this position, who would then work for the court of appeal as his/her primary position and for the Labour Court in a secondary position. The third professional judge has been employed in a full-time position since 1 March 2007, and the Labour Disputes Act of 2012 made the position permanent. The court now has three permanent professional judges, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 37.

All the judges, including the professional judges, were originally appointed for fixed terms of three years. When Act No 58 of 28 June 2002 was introduced, Section 10 (now Section 37 second paragraph) of the Labour Disputes Act was amended, making the president and vice president senior civil servants. The third judge has also been made a senior civil servant since the position became full-time. The deputy judges for the three permanent judges and the judges appointed based on nominations by the social partners are still appointed for a fixed term of three years, cf. Section 37 second paragraph. Act No 60 of 17 June 2005 changed the titles ‘chairman’ and ‘deputy chairman’ to ‘president’ and ‘vice president’.

The president and vice president, the third professional judge and the other four judges appointed based on nominations make up the Labour Court’s permanent judges. Individual cases are normally presided over by two of the permanent professional judges, and the third professional judge is summoned from among the deputy judges, cf. the Labour Disputes Act Section 38 first paragraph.

The Civil Service Disputes Act prescribes the same composition of the court. However, the four permanent members appointed based on nominations are appointed especially for cases under this Act on the recommendation of the state and the confederations of civil servants, cf. the Civil Service Disputes Act Section 25 second paragraph. See the section on the Civil Service Disputes Act for more details.

Deputy judges

In addition to the permanent judges, deputy judges are also appointed to the Labour Court. Deputies for the president, vice president and the third professional judge are appointed separately. At least two deputy judges shall be appointed for each of the seven judges. The first time that more than two deputy judges were appointed for the four judges appointed on the basis of nominations was from 1 September 1951. This practice has been upheld since, and the number has increased with time.

The provisions on deputy judges have particular significance due to the provision set out in the Labour Disputes Act Section 38 first paragraph fourth sentence: ‘A deputy judge appointed by nomination from an association whose nomination was not followed in the appointment of the permanent judges, shall, in cases concerning this association or its members, nevertheless be summoned in place of the judge for whom he/she is the deputy.’ This is important when parties other than the organisations that submit nominations for the permanent judges are parties to a case. In such cases, the permanent judges will normally be replaced by judges nominated by the organisations that are parties to the case.

Until 1980, the permanent judges and deputy judges nominated by employee organisations were all nominated by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). The first deputy judge nominated by another organisation was appointed in 1980 based on a nomination by the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS). Today, several employee organisations are represented. Until 1990, the permanent judges and deputy judges nominated by employer organisations had all been nominated by the Norwegian Employers' Confederation (N.A.F.) (now the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO)). In 1990, four deputy judges were appointed based on nominations from the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS). Today, several employer organisations are represented.

Appointments pursuant to the Civil Service Disputes Act have followed a different practice. Until 1984, the employee confederations submitted joint nominations, and permanent judges representing two of them were appointed. The system was amended in 1984 so that permanent judges were appointed based on nominations from the Norwegian Federation of State Employees’ Unions (Statstjenestemannskartellet), with deputy judges being nominated by Statstjenestemannskartellet, the Confederation of Academic and Professional Unions (AF) and YS. Today, the four permanent judges appointed for cases under this Act are appointed based on nominations from the state and the civil servants’ confederations. Deputy judges are appointed for them as well.

Women in the Labour Court

The first female Labour Court Judges were appointed with effect from 1 September 1975 under the Civil Service Disputes Act. They were Reidun Skogvang (by recommendation of the state) and Rigmor Førland (representing the civil servants’ organisations). Reidun Skogvang had been a deputy judge since 15 November 1974. She was the first woman ever to be appointed a judge or deputy judge. The first woman to be appointed as a deputy member under the Labour Disputes Act was Ingeborg Bakken (LO) with effect from 1 September 1975.

The first female deputy judges representing the employers under the Labour Disputes Act were appointed with effect from 1 September 1981. The first woman to become a permanent professional judge was Åse Berg, who was appointed with effect from 1 September 1990. At the same time, Eva Nygaard Ottesen was appointed vice president. More recently, Hanne Inger Bjurstrøm was vice president from 2000 to 2003.
Elin Nykaas was acting president from December 2006 to April 2007, making her the first woman to lead the Labour Court.

Former presidents

  • Jakob Wahl 2011–2021
  • Tor Sigmund Mehl 2000–2011
  • Stein Evju 1984–2000.
  • Erling Anger 1980–1984
  • Kristen Andersen 1964-1980
  • Brynjulf Bull 1956-1963
  • Emil Stang 1946-1955
  • Paal Berg 1916-1945

Former vice presidents

  • Tron Løkken Sundet 2010-2021
  • Johan Kr. Øydegard 2008-2009
  • Jon Gisle 2003-2008
  • Hanne Inger Bjurstrøm 2000-2003
  • Tor Sigmund Mehl 1996-2000
  • Gunnvald Gussgard 1994-1996
  • Eva Nygaard Ottesen 1990-1994
  • Finn Midtskaug 1979-1990
  • Trygve Bendiksby 1975-1978
  • Kristen Andersen 1962-1975

Former professional judges

  • Marit B. Frogner 2011-2018
  • Elin Nykaas kst. dommer 2007-2010
  • Gunvald Gussgard 1998-2011 og 1993-1996
  • Inger-Else Stabel 1994-1997
  • Åse Berg 1990-1993
  • Odd Friberg 1981-1990
  • Oddvar Berrefjord 1978-1981
  • Trygve Leivestad 1969-1978 og 1980-1981
  • Trygve Bendiksby 1966-1978
  • Otto Helgesen 1960-1961 og 1964-1969
  • Reidar Skau 1946-1966
  • Kristen Andersen 1946-1960 og 1962-1963
  • Adolf Lindvik 1945-1946
  • Sverre Grette 1939-1940
  • Emil Stang 1939-1944
  • Ragnar Knoph 1937-1938
  • Eyvind J. Andersen 1937-1939
  • Otto G. D. Aubert 1927-1936
  • D.H. Christiansen 1927-1936

Read more about the history and development of the Labour Court in Alsos, K., Seip. Å. A., Nygaard. P. (2016) I arbeidsfredens tjeneste, Arbeidsretten gjennom hundre år. Oslo, Pax