The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held a Grand Chamber hearing in the case of Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson v. Iceland today. The case concerns the former’s allegation that the new Icelandic Court of Appeal (Landsréttur), which upheld his conviction in April 2018, was not established by law, having regard to irregularities in the appointment of one of the judges sitting on the bench; in 2017, then Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen oversaw the appointment of four judges to the Court who were not on a list of 15 candidates initially selected by an evaluation committee.
As noted in a press release from the Grand Chamber this morning, in 2017, Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson was convicted of driving without a valid licence and of being under the influence of narcotics. He appealed the decision to the new Court of Appeal (established in January 2018). Judge Arnfríður Einarsdóttir was one of the judges assigned to Guðmundur’s case. Arguing that there had been irregularities in the procedure for her appointment, Guðmundur requested that she withdraw. His motion was rejected.
Guðmundur appealed the case to the Supreme Court in April 2018, but the court dismissed his appeal a month later, finding that despite flaws in the procedure, there was not a sufficient reason to doubt that Guðmundur had had a fair trial before independent and impartial judges. On May 31, Guðmundur appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights.
In its Chamber judgment on March 12, 2019, the ECHR held (by five votes to two) that there had been a violation of Article 6 section 1 (right to a tribunal established by law) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Chamber found that the process by which Arnfríður Einarsdóttir had been appointed to the Icelandic Court of Appeal had amounted to a flagrant breach of the applicable domestic rules: “It had been to the detriment of the confidence that the judiciary in a democratic society must inspire in the public and had contravened the very essence of the principle that a tribunal must be established by law.”
On September 9, 2019 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber. That hearing began this morning at 9.15 am and concluded at 11.45 am. Many Icelanders were in attendance, among them Sigríður Andersen, former Minister of Justice (who resigned following the ECHR ruling last year), Jón Finnbjörnssn (one of the judges on the Icelandic Court of Appeal on hiatus following the ECHR verdict), and parliamentarian Helga Vala Helgadóttir.
State of Paralysis
In an opening statement this morning, State’s Attorney Fanney Rós Þorsteinsdóttir said that the Icelandic Court of Appeal could no longer endure a “state of paralysis.” Arguing on behalf of the Government, Fanney stated that the ECHR should, based on the facts, conclude that the state of paralysis should be resolved: the Icelandic government had not violated the rights of Guðmundur Á. Ástráðsson when Icelandic Court of Appeal judge Arnfríður Einarsdóttir upheld his conviction.