Comparative law and justice/Iceland

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Swestgate 5060 19:25, 11 February 2010 (UTC)

Basic Information

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Is an island east of Canada, and south east of Greenland in the North Atlantic Sea. The majority of the population is of Norwegian, Irish or Scottish decent. "Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930". [1] The total area of the island is 103,000sq feet. Of that only 2,750sq feet is comprised of water. The CIA Factbook describes it as being "slightly smaller than Kentucky".[2] There is no concept of seperation of church and state. The ministers that work for the State Church are paid by the Icelandic government. [3] The Evangelical Lutheran church is the Icelandic church, but not everyone is required to practice that religion. There is freedom of religion, but if one decides to not belong to any church, then they have to pay dues to the University of Iceland. [4] Everyone is equal under the law regardless of sex, religion, opinion, national origin, race, colour, property, birth or other status. [5]

Brief History

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As stated before, most of the citizens of Iceland are of Scottish, Norweigen or Nordic decent. The native language in Iceland is Icelandic and the Evangelical Lutheran church is the Icelandic church. Because of the fallout from Askja volcano of 1875, many of the citizens were forced to emigrate to the United States and Canada. Iceland has a history of being a very fair and equal country, probably because everyone is so similar.

Economic Development, Health, and Education

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The Icelandic economic structure is capitalist. People are entitled to own their own property and conduct business without the rule of government as long as the business is legal. [6] The banks were government ruled, and sustained through private holdings until the turn of the millennium when they decided to sell banks to private companies. These companies hired many people and started to make investments with other international banks because Iceland as a country had such a great credit score. This caused a huge rise in the "value" of Icelandic money (krona). The Icelandic stock market was soaring but there was no real value to the stocks that were being purchased. The Icelandic people were wealthy on paper but not in goods or GDP. One can relate this to the idea behind the federal reserve. In the United States, the money in circulation is supposed to mirror the amount of gold in the federal reserve (backed up by gold) but since we print more money than there is gold, the value of the dollar is in a sense imaginary. This was true in Iceland. They were banking on the value of their stocks and appeared to be extremely wealthy, when in all actuality, the value of their money was merely a growing bubble that inevitably popped. One could say that the bottom fell out of the Icelandic economy. The big problem was that the Icelandic government did not have the resources or authority to do anything about the crisis because the banks were privatized. The banks all collapsed. As recently as last year the three major banks in Iceland crashed and the government did nothing about this. The government remained neutral and did not suffer the monumental losses as a result. The amount of money owed to other nations by the Icelandic government was so minuscule that they were able to progress beyond the financial crisis that the privatized banks were experiencing. The economy in Iceland is still in recovery. [7]

Iceland has a Minister of health that must enforce the laws and regulations by the Althingi (Parliament)

Everyone is guaranteed a "suitable general education and tuition" [8] There is a pre-school ruled according to government standards available to any child under 6. Then there is compulsory education from age 6-16 and is usually set up into the same school of primary and lower secondary school. From age 16 on, no one is compelled to complete any further education but there is a system in place for those aged 16-20. At that point if someone still wishes to complete their education, they can attend Universities. This is much like the educational system in the United States besides the pre-schools being run by the State and the ages of compulsory education. This is just one more example of how the Icelandic Government actually has a very good social welfare system. [9]


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Codefied Civil Law System "1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark)".[10] Became completely independent in 1944. Operates under Civil law and rules with a constitution. They have a mixed system because they have a president and primeminister. President Olafur Ragnar Grimmison (since 1 August 1996) The head of government is Johanna Sigurdardottir. He was appointed in Februrary of 2009. In this system, the prime minister, appoints the cabinet. The head of government: Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir (since 1 February 2009). The president is in charge of drawing up treaties with other countries unless they make major changes to international waters or promise servitude to another country. [11] It is a Republic with a parliamentary government.[12]


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The president is elected by the people during a democratic election. Anyone who is at least 35 and meets all the requirements to vote in an election can run for president. They vote for the candidate directly in a secret ballot and the one with the most votes wins. If no one runs against the candidate, then they automatically win.[13] cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister. The president chooses who shall be in parliament, and can also be removed from office. If this happens, they suspend all actions performed by the president and the parliament is dissolved completely and new elections must take place. [14] The president himself can also dissolve parliament. In this case, elections must be held no more than 45 days from this point. No one can hold office unless they are a Icelandic resident. The Althingi (parliament) consists of no more than 63 members that are elected directly by the people in a secret ballot. It is representative of the people of the country and each district is entitled to no more than 6 representatives.

Judicial Review

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Iceland does practice Judicial Review by the courts based on their Constitution which is much like the American system of Judicial Review. [15]

Courts and Criminal Law

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There are no juries. Cases are heard by a panal of judges especially in the supreme court where a panal of 3 to 5 judges hears the case depending on the seriousness of the case. The defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution. [16]

An appeal to the Supreme Court can be made by anyone that has standing. A case does not have to be referred by a judge or previous court. There are 9 Supreme Court Justices.

District courts are courts of first instance. There are eight district courts in Iceland, which have jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases. Appeals are heard by the Supreme Court, consisting of nine justices (all appointed for life by the president), who elect one of their number as chief justice for a two-year term. There are special courts for maritime cases, labor disputes, and other types of cases. [17]

The courts are free from political control. Although the Ministry of Justice administers the lower courts, the Supreme Court oversees independent and fair application of the law.

A recent reform project transferred all judicial authority for criminal and civil cases form local officials (chiefs of police) to newly established district courts. This complete separation of judicial and executive power in regional jurisdictions was completed in 1992. [18] If is person is arrested, they have the right to be seen by a judge with in 24hours. At that point, the judge can decide to hold the accused or release them on bail, of which the judge decides the amount. Everyone is entitled to a hearing and a public trial if the judge deems necessary. [19]


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Since 1998, there has been a law that states that a pretrial detainee can be held in prison indefinitely regardless of the charge. Juveniles as young as 15 can be incarcerated in an adult prison due to the lace of juvenile detention facilities. The Icelandic Government states that such a facility is not needed since so few juveniles are sent to prison. In fact, most of them are put on probation or assigned community service. The prison population is growing in Iceland and the prisons they currently have are not big enough to accommodate everyone. Since so few women are incarcerated, some men (with the permission of the women inmates) are sent to the women's facility to carry out their sentence. There is much push for more prisons to built in Iceland. [20]

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People who wish to obtain a law degree must apply to the University of Law in Reykjavik or one of the other three law schools in Iceland. Like the United States, the graduates need to pass the Bar exam to be able to practice law. If a defendant wishes to represent him or herself in Supreme Court, they have the ability to do so unless the judge feels that that person is not qualified and then they can require them to hire a professional. "There are four schools of law in Iceland. To enter an Icelandic law school, a student needs to have graduated from a secondary high-school. After three years of study, a bachelor’s degree is delivered, with which it is possible to work as a lawyer. A master’s degree (two years of study) is a requirement to take the Icelandic Bar Examination, and is likely to be the standard diploma sought by students, who are not expected to commonly start a professional career after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in law. A Ph.D. in law is offered at some universities. The following universities have a school of law: Bifröst University, Reykjavik University, the University of Akureyri, and the University of Iceland". [21]

Law Enforcement

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I would say that Iceland would be considered a Centralized, multiple coordinated type of police structure. They have the Icelandic National police since 2008. [22] The minister of justice is the head of the Icelandic and national commissioner, and must possess a law degree. (Rikislogreglustjor) The commissioner is responsible for all police functions and has authority over the prosecution of economic offenses, treason and other types of related offenses. [23] "To qualify for admission to the college, applicants must be Icelandic citizens,aged between 20 and 35, in good mental and physical health, have completed two years of post-compulsory education or the equivalent, have good language skills, a driving license, be able to swim, and have a clean criminal record. A special entrance examination is held, with the emphasis on knowledge of Icelandic and general physical stamina". The applicants must then continue their education for roughly 3 years in areas of the law. This is much longer than police academies in the U.S.[24] There are 9 tiers or levels of law enforcement within the country of Iceland. There is the National Commissioner, Police Chief, Vice or Duputy Police Chief, Chief Constable, Chief Sargent, Sergent, Policeman and lastly district police man. The policing authority is split up into 25 districts that are policed by individual district chiefs. Within the districts, the police Chiefs are responsible for many civil duties. In fact, upon first glance, the duties that they perform seem like those of a civil servant or attorney. They collect taxes, deal with family matters, register all mortgages and deeds and settle estates. If a serious offense should arise, there is a director of public prosecutor that is responsible for prosecutions of that sort. Iceland does not have it's own military, but instead relies on the "US manned Icelandic Defense Force (IDF) headquartered at Keflavik". [25] Since 2006 NATO has agreed that the airspace would be patrolled by Norwegian intelligence and is still in effect as of 2008. Because there are only ferries from May through September, and it's coast line is pretty much inhospitable, the patrol by the Icelandic coast guard is more than sufficient. Corruption in Iceland is practically non-existent. The Transparency International Corruption perceptions Index rates it 4th behind Finland, Denmark & New Zealand 9.4 out of 10. [26]

Crime Rates and Public Opinion

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Offenses per 100,000 The lowest crime rates in Iceland appear to be those concerning violent crime against one another. This could be possible because Iceland has such a homogenous society. The problem of most concern is first speeding, second driving under the influence and thirdly, anything having to do with drug related offenses. Their major crime concerns are non-violent crimes. In 2005, the major crimes that were reported were: Rape at 24.9, Homicide 1, Manslaughter at .3, Breaking and Entering at 99.3, Robbery at 16.7, Holding Narcotics at 473.4, Public Intoxication at 540, DUI at 663.7, and finally Speeding at 8,013.3 instances per 100, 000 people. [27]


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Family Law

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The laws on marriage and divorce have been liberalized, confirmed partnership of homosexual couples has gained equal status as marriage of heterosexuals, cohabitation has gained some recognition in different laws, rights of lone parents have been increased and the rights of children, in society and in the family, has been ensured through various legislation. [28] Although the legal restrictions on laws are quite liberal, homosexual couples have not been granted the right to adopt children or be inseminated. Men and women have equal rights under the law within the marriage and are treated equally in the eyes of the court in regards to divorce and for child custody decisions, the court always decides as to the best interest of the child or children involved. As far as inheritance goes, Heirs at law shall be the following:

The spouse of a deceased person. [29] The parents are responsible for their children until they are 18. There are many single mothers, and step parents are just as legally responsible for the children as the biological parents.

Social Inequality

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As with any country, there are social inequalities but they are relatively non existent due to the homogeneous society. The socioeconomic differences are the ones that are most evident, but since the government of Iceland has such an effective welfare system. The majority of the citizens are employed, but the ones that are not are taken care of by the state. Their primary concern is alleviating poverty and have a phenominal system that seems to be set up to promote equality or at least equal opportunity. The hospitals and schools are state run and therefore all citizens have adequate access to health care and education.[30]

Human Rights

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The rights that the citizens in Iceland possess are: "Freedom from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life: Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, Denial of fair public trial, arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, freedom from speech and press, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Freedom of religion, freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel emigration and repatriation, respect for political rights, the rights of citizens to change their government, and discrimination. Freedom societal abuse and trafficking persons". These are the rights that are listed and in compliance with the UN list of Human Rights. The Icelandic Government is actually very good at abiding by it's constitution which was drafted with the protection of it's citizens in mind. They believe that everyone in Iceland should basically have the same rights as everyone else in society and take pretty good measures to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to education and liberty. As stated before, I believe this is due to the fact that the society in Iceland is homogeneous which means that there are no significant minority threats. In the United States, it seems as though many do not enjoy the benefits that those in Iceland do, but this could be because the Untied States has at least ten times as many citizens that come from countless ethnic groups. [31]

Works Cited

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  1. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook "Iceland". Website accessed 4/30/10
  2. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook "Iceland". Website accessed 4/30/10
  3. Comparative CriminologyCrime and society "A comparative criminology tour of the world". Website Accessed 4/30/10
  4. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  5. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  6. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  7. Minister of Economic affairs Iceland Website accessed 4/20/10
  8. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  9. Ministry of Education Science and Culture "Education in Iceland" Website accessed 4/30/10
  10. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook "Iceland". Website accessed 4/30/10
  11. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  12. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  13. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  14. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  15. The Influence of American Theories on Judicial Review in Nordic Constitutional Law Ragnhildur Helgadóttir Website accessed 4/30/10
  16. The World Law Guide Haestirettur Islands "Court Cases in Iceland (Lexadin) "The Supreme Court" Website accessed 4/30/10
  17. The World Law Guide Haestirettur Islands "Court Cases in Iceland (Lexadin) "The Supreme Court" Website accessed 4/30/10
  18. Judicial system - Iceland - "power" Website accessed 4/30/10
  19. Government Offices of Iceland. 1999. "Constitution of the Republic of Iceland." Website accessed 04/27/2010,
  20. US Department of State, "2009 Human Rights Report" March 11, 2010 website accessed
  21. GlobaLex-Researching Icelandic Law by by Rán Tryggvadóttir and Thordis Ingadóttir Feb. 2007 website accessed 4/30/10
  22. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook "Iceland". Website accessed 4/30/10
  23. The Office of the National Commissioner of Police Icelandic Police and Justice System PDF Website accessed 4/30/10 Police and Justice System.pdf/
  24. Icelandic Police and Justice System website accessed 4/30/10 Police and Justice System.pdf
  25. CIA World Factbook "Iceland" website accessed 4/30/10
  26. National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, Police Website Website accessed 4/30/10
  27. The National Commissioner of Icelandic Police Police Website, website accessed April 26, 2010
  28. Demographic Trends in Iceland First report for the project Welfare Policy and Employment in the Context of Family Change.May 2003 website accessed 4/13/10
  29. Ministry of justice and human rights Inheritance Act No. 8, 14 March 1962 With subsequent amendments No. 29/1985, 48/1989, 86/1989, 20/1991, 91/1991, 174/2000. Website accessed April 15, 2010,
  30. University of Iceland, Urban Studies Institute power point presentation. website accessed April 26, 2010,
  31. 2004 country report on human rights US dept of justice website accessed 4/22/10