Each municipality has a conciliation council ( forliksråd ), elected by the municipal council, to mediate in lesser civil cases so as to settle them, if possible, before they go to court; under some conditions the conciliation councils also render judgments. The courts of first instance are town courts ( byrett ) and rural courts ( herredsrett ), which try both civil and criminal cases. Their decisions may be brought before a court of appeals ( lagmannsrett ), which also serves as a court of first instance in more serious criminal cases. There are six such courts: Borgarting, Eidsivating, Agder, Gulating, Frostating and Hålogaland. Appeals may be taken to the Supreme Court (Høyesterett) at Oslo, which consists of a chief justice and 17 judges. Special courts include a Social Insurance Court and a Labor Disputes Court who mediates industrial relations disputes.
The judiciary is independent of both the legislative and the executive branches. In criminal cases, defendants are afforded free legal counsel. Indigent persons are granted free legal counsel in certain civil cases as well.