Nygard receiving free legal aid
Shunned: Gry Helen Nygård is grateful for the legal help she now receives from the law firm Schjødt.

NORWAY: Nygard Receiving free legal aid

COURT CASE: The Schjødt law firm assists Gry Helen Nygård with a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. – This case is fundamentally important, says the lawyer
Originally published in Norwegian on VÅRT LAND on November 5, 2022 by Maria Lavik.

In 2018, Gry Helen Nygård lost her entire social network, including contact with her two sons. She was expelled from Jehovah’s Witnesses after telling about what she perceived as abuse.

She went to court to have the expulsion lifted. In May she lost in the Supreme Court.  In July she appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Now Vårt Land can say that the Schjødt law firm is involved in the case. In September, they submitted a new version of the complaint, and took the case for free on behalf of Nygård. The case was first reported by the trade magazine Juristen.

“This case is fundamentally very important. That’s why we want to contribute with our expertise,” says process officer Thomas Horn to Vårt Land.

He is not aware of similar cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). He believes that the ECHR will deal with the case.

Facing each other

Gry Helen Nygård was expelled in 2018 from Jehovah’s Witnesses due to alleged sexual immorality. Nygård herself has said that she was subjected to abuse. She has belonged to Jehovah’s Witnesses since she was 15 years old. When she was expelled, all contact ceased with friends, her own children and the rest of her family in the community.

“In this case, one must weigh between important human rights: Freedom of religion on the one hand, and on the other Gry Helen Nygård’s right to privacy, her reputation and the violation that has occurred,” says Thomas Horn.

In May this year, the Supreme Court concluded that freedom of religion means that they cannot set aside the decision of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They point out that courts cannot set aside a religiously founded decision made by a faith group, exclusively on the basis that the decision is grossly unreasonable.

“We believe that the Supreme Court has not weighed these human rights against each other. They have considered freedom of religion to be almost absolute, and I think that is incorrect. She has not been able to exercise her human rights in the proper way,” says Horn.

The consequences

In August, Schjødt lawyers Elisabeth Dolva Sandøy and Eirin Tinnesand wrote a comment in Rett24. After that they were contacted by Gry Helen Nygård and her supporting player Rolf Furuli.

Furuli is a former elder in Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in July he wrote a complaint on behalf of Nygård to the ECHR. So the Schjødt law firm has now submitted a new version of the complaint.

The complaint that the Schjødt law firm has submitted will initially go through a screening process, where it will be decided whether the case shall be dismissed or taken forward.

“I don’t wish this on anyone”

“I am incredibly grateful for the work Schjødt does. They have shown great commitment. The work they do gives me hope,” says Gry Helen Nygård to Vårt Land.

She says she hopes that a case at the ECHR can help others in similar situations.

“I wouldn’t wish what I’ve experienced on anyone. If the verdict against me stands, women – especially in religious circles – will be reluctant to seek help if they are subjected to abuse.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Fabian Fond, information officer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses branch office in Scandinavia, wrote in an e-mail to Vårt Land that they agree with the decision from the Supreme Court.

He refers to the judgment, which, among other things, states that: “Freedom of religion does not give anyone the right to become a member or to remain a member of a particular religious community”.

“This harmonizes with established case law at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights,” he writes.

He also refers to a comment in Rett24, as a response to the post from the Schjødt law firm.

Jehovah’s Witnesses
and Shunning

In 2018, Gry Helen Nygård was expelled from Jehovah’s Witnesses. She has tried to have the expulsion lifted, but lost in the Supreme Court. The case is now being appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Jehovah’s Witnesses write on their website that they expel people who “make it a habit to break the moral standards of the Bible and do not repent”, and refer to 1 Corinthians 5:13 “Remove the evil man from your midst”.

In January, 2022, it became known that the State Administrator in Oslo and Viken is denying Jehovah’s Witnesses state subsidies for 2021 because of the shunning practice. The Ministry of Children and Family recently confirmed the decision.

Thomas Horn

Thomas Horn, legal representative

“We think this case will be dealt with by the ECHR,” says process officer Thomas Horn. Photo: Schjødt

Thomas Horn has thorough expertise in Human Rights, and holds a PhD in this field of law. He has served as a member of the Human Rights Committee of the The Norwegian Bar Association, and has held many other positions in the Human Rights field as well. He has been involved in a number of court cases and has written scholarly articles that has influenced the legal development in this field, also concerning the rights of companies and commercial actors. He is a member of Schjødt’s pro bono committee. 

Read more on schjodt.no.