Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson should have consulted the cabinet on the decision to arm police with stun guns, according to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, RÚV reports. The change is a major political issue and should have been brought before the cabinet. Jón only announced the new regulation publicly after it had been passed.
Contrary to many other countries, ordinary police officers in Iceland do not carry firearms on their person. Police vehicles are, however, equipped with a gun. At the end of last year, the Minister of Justice signed an amendment to regulations, authorising Icelandic police to carry electroshock weapons. He announced the decision in a column submitted to local newspaper Morgunblaðið once it had already been implemented. The regulatory change was never discussed in the cabinet before it was made.
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister two days ago, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that he believes Jón Gunnarsson was guilty of a lack of consultation when he changed the regulations. The Prime Minister’s reply to the letter stated that the decision to arm police with stun guns constituted a change in focus and that she had therefore specifically requested that the Minister of Justice explain the decision to the cabinet. The Minister of Justice did not comply with that request.
In a legal opinion published yesterday morning, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that Jón’s decision was not in accordance with good governance. Violations of formal rules not only serve to undermine trust, the ombudsman wrote, but also circumvent political consultation required by law and by the constitution.
Unclear whether Jón will continue as Minister of Justice
In an interview with RÚV, Jón Gunnarsson stated he disagreed with the ombudsman’s opinion and that he would not step down as Minister of Justice due to the issue. However, when the current government took power, Jón was only to hold the position of Minister of Justice for the first 18 months of the term, and was set to be replaced by fellow Independence Party MP Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.
In January, Guðrún told reporters she expected to take over the role this month, but Jón Gunnarson stated today that no one has yet asked him to step down from the position.