Lawsuit Challenges Þjórsá Hydropower Plant

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Eleven landowners by Þjórsá river in South Iceland have sued the government, demanding that a license for Hvammsvirkjun hydropower plant be revoked.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, minister of the environment, energy, and climate, is surprised and disappointed by the suit, RÚV reports. He said it would delay the project and go against the national interest.

Confident in the project going forward

The proposed hydro project would create a 4 square kilometre reservoir [1.5 square miles] and have an estimated capacity of 95 MW. Guðlaugur Þór said that he remained confident that the hydro plant would be build, despite the lawsuit.

“It’s disappointing that these parties are using loopholes to delay things and it will impact us all,” the minister said. “This has been in the works since 2015 and we need the green energy. And I have to say it like it is, that even if they found loopholes in the regulatory and legal framework, they should also take the national interest into account.”

Damage to the ecosystem

Guðlaugur Þór added that it was important to use domestic electricity instead of imported petrol. He argued that the hydro plant was important for Iceland’s vision in energy policy.

The landowners have argued that the hydro plant will be damaging for the environment, for the local ecosystem and for the salmon population.

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Acquitted in Landmark Domestic Terrorism Case

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Reykjavík District Court has convicted Sindri Snær Birgisson and Ísidór Nathansson for violating weapons law, but acquitted them of attempted terrorism, RÚV reports. It is the very first court ruling in Iceland in a terrorism-related case. The defence calls the ruling a condemnation of the prosecution and the National Police Commissioner, who they assert took the case too far from the start.

Hoarded weapons and planned attack

In September 2022, four Icelandic men were arrested in Iceland on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts against public institutions and civilians. The investigation was the first of its kind in Iceland, with 50 police officers taking part. According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. In private messages, two of the men had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack.

Two of the suspects were immediately released but the other two, Sindri Snær Birgisson and Ísidór Nathansson, were remanded in custody. The initial case was dismissed by the District Court in February 2023. A new 64-count indictment was presented in June and also dismissed by the district judge. The District Prosecutor appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, demanding that the case proceed to substantive trial. The Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal on October 23 last year.

Receive sentences for weapons offences

The hearing in the case finally took place last February, and both defendants denied the main charges. The District Court has just published its judgement in the case, acquitting Sindri Snær Birgisson of attempted terrorism and Ísidór Nathansson of being a party to attempted terrorism. Sindri Snær received a 24-month sentence for weapons offences, minus the time he has already spent in custody, while Ísidór received an 18-month sentence.

Inspector says police were right to intervene

Einar Oddur Sigurðsson, Ísidor’s defence attorney, stated it was a huge relief that the defendants had been cleared of allegations of intended terrorism. Sindri Snær’s attorney Sveinn Andri Sveinsson, admitted, however, that Sindri Snær’s weapons violation was an unusually serious offence. The two said that the judgement is a condemnation of how Icelandic police and the Icelandic justice system handled the case.

During his testimony, Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson outlined the National Police Commissioner’s involvement in the case. He affirmed that it was his assessment at the time, and remains his view today, that the police were correct to intervene.

The prosecutor has not yet stated whether the judgement will be appealed.

Judge Wins Court Case Over Pay Dispute

Judge's gavel

Iceland’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that authorities had been in the wrong when they lowered the pay of judges last year and demanded repayment of allegedly overpaid salary. All of Iceland’s judges had to recuse themselves as the dispute made its way through the court system.

The dispute began when authorities reached out to 260 civil servants, officials, and elected representatives last year, RÚV reports. They were told that they’d been overpaid due to the wrong index being used in salary calculations and that this would need to be rectified with a repayment to the Icelandic state. Among those affected were the judges of Iceland’s eight District Courts, the lowest tier of the three-tier court system.

All of Iceland’s judges recused themselves

One of the District Court judges, Ástríður Grímsdóttir, sued the Icelandic state. As the outcome of the case would affect judges’ pay, all judges in Iceland had to recuse themselves and alternate judges were brought in.

Ástríður won her case in District Court this spring, but the state appealed. Due to the precedent that the ruling would set, the state asked that the case would go directly to the highest tier Supreme Court, bypassing the middle tier, the Court of Appeal.

The ruling Friday by the alternate judges of the Supreme Court confirmed the District Court ruling. The state was ruled to have been in the wrong when repayments of ISK 550,000 [$4,000, €3,700] were demanded from each judge. A two percent pay decrease for judges was also blocked.

Bankastræti Hearing Begins in Banquet Hall

Judge's gavel

A hearing involving 25 defendants, most in their twenties, began yesterday in Reykjavík, though not in a traditional courtroom. As the District Court of Reykjavík did not have a courtroom large enough to accommodate the number of people involved in the case, an alternative venue needed to be found. The court eventually settled on a banquet hall in the suburban neighbourhood of Grafarvogur, which was then adapted to the purposes of the hearing, though not without issues.

25 attackers, three victims

The hearing centres on a knife attack at Bankastræti Club in downtown Reykjavík in November 2022 when a group of masked men barged into the nightclub in November of last year and attacked three men. Twenty-five people have been charged in the case: one for attempted murder, ten for “specially dangerous assault,” and the other fourteen for participating in the attack. The three victims sustained stab wounds and other injuries.

Banquet hall turned courtroom

“I don’t remember that there have been so many defendants and defence attorneys and other witnesses gathered in one place in a court case in Iceland,” defence attorney Ómar R. Valdimarsson told RÚV reporters at the banquet hall yesterday.

“We know this hall well because we’ve come here for confirmation parties and wedding parties. So it’s a bit of a different atmosphere,” stated Jón Þór Ólason, a defence attorney for one of the defendants.

Coffee shortage ruffles lawyers

Attorneys have criticised the unusual location and its constraints. Among other things, lawyers complained that there was no coffee available at the location. Some headed to a nearby KFC to satisfy their caffeine cravings while others resorted to purchasing energy drinks from a shop at the location. After a recess, Judge Sigríður Hjaltested who is overseeing the hearing stated that the coffee issue would hopefully be resolved by the following day.

Reykjavík District Court Judge Ingibjörg Þorsteinsdóttir stated the banquet hall was chosen for the hearing as it “turned out to be the room that would be the simplest to convert into a courtroom and for the least amount of money, although it still costs a lot.”

At the beginning of yesterday’s session, Judge Sigríður Hjaltested announced that the media would not be permitted to report on the contents of the hearing just yet, but the ban would probably be lifted on Thursday.

Iceland: Internal Documents May Shed Light on Sale of Public Assets

Iceland's Althing

Lindarhvoll, a company founded to handle public assets following the banking collapse, must hand over a 37-page internal report on its dealings, the Prime Ministry’s Information Committee (Úrskurðarnefnd um upplýsingamál) has ruled. Opposition MPs have demanded the publication of other internal documents from the company that pertain to the sale of public assets that fell into state hands due to the banking collapse. The document is expected to shed light on whether the company in fact sold public assets at the best possible price. RÚV reported first.

Read More: Opposition MPs Demand Access to Banking Collapse Related Report

Lindarhvoll was founded by the Finance Ministry in 2016 to handle assets acquired by the government after Iceland’s banking collapse. In 2020, Frigus II ehf. sued Lindarhvoll and the Icelandic state for ISK 651 million [$4.6 million, €4.3 million] due to the sale of Klakka ehf. to another company. According to Frigus, the company’s purchase offer for Klakka ehf. was rejected in favour of an offer that did not fulfil the conditions of the sale. If that assertion proves true, it would mean Lindarhvoll did not necessarily act in the public’s best interest in the sale of public assets.

Internal data handed over

Opposition MPs have been calling for a 2018 internal report from Lindarhvoll to be made public, but despite pressure, it remains an internal document. Last Monday, the governing majority also voted against permitting MPs to submit questions about Lindarhvoll in parliament, leading Social-Democratic MP Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson to ask “What is it that the public is not allowed to see?”

The ruling made by the Information Committee does not concern the 2018 report, but other internal documents from Lindarhvoll: a 37-page report and memoranda on Lindarhvoll written by the law firm MAGNA for the Speaker’s Committee of Parliament. These documents will now be handed over to Frigus, as per the ruling.

District Court Will Not Charge Defendants in Terrorism Case

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

Ísidór Nathansson and Sindri Snær Birgisson will not be charged with planning a terrorist act, the District Court of Reykjavík ruled today. The two were among four Icelandic men arrested last September for terrorist plots against state institutions and civilians in Iceland. The suspects’ potential targets included police, politicians, and union leaders. According to police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons, including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components, alongside ammunition.

Unclear wording in indictment

Both of the defendants’ lawyers asked for the offences related to the preparation of terrorist acts to be dismissed due to unclear wording in the indictment. The prosecutor has yet to decide whether to appeal the case to Landsréttur Court of Appeals.

Both Ísidór and Sindri Snær pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges filed against them when the case was registered in January. They both pleaded guilty, however, to some breaches of legislation on weapons, while pleading not guilty to others. Ísidór pleaded guilty to breaking drug laws by being in possession of illegal substances and steroids.

Charges that could lead to life imprisonment

Sindri Snær was accused of attempted terrorism and large-scale violations of weapons legislation. Ísidór was accused of complicity in attempted terrorism and large-scale violations of weapons legislation. They were accused of violating Article 100 of the Penal Code, according to which they could be sentenced to life imprisonment if found guilty.

Union Strike Ruled Legal, but Efling Must Hand Over Member Registry

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

Two rulings were delivered today in the drawn-out and tense collective agreement negotiations between Iceland’s second-largest union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). The District Court of Reykjavík ruled this afternoon that Efling Union must hand over the membership registry it has been withholding from the state mediator. Just over an hour later, the Labour Court ruled that a proposed hotel workers’ strike set to begin in Reykjavík tomorrow is, in fact, legal.

District Court rules in state mediator’s favour

In late January, the state mediator presented a mediation proposal in the wage dispute between Efling and SA, which met with criticism from both parties. The proposal was to be put to a vote by the members of Efling, but the vote proved impossible to carry out as Efling withheld its membership registry from the state mediator’s office. The District Court has now ruled that the union must hand over the registry. Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir called the ruling “wrong and unfair” and previously stated she would appeal the ruling if it was not in the union’s favour.

Labour Court rules in Efling’s favour

Meanwhile, some 300 Efling members working at seven Reykjavík hotels have voted to begin striking tomorrow. The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) had previously challenged the legality of the strike before the Labour Court, which ruled today in the union’s favour.

More Efling members are voting on additional strike actions: 500 hotel workers at the Berjaya Hotels chain and the Reykjavík Edition hotel, as well as some 70 delivery truck drivers are voting on whether to strike. Polls close tomorrow, and if members vote in favour, these additional strikes are set to begin on February 15. Strikes would be called off if an agreement were to be reached between Efling and SA before that date.

Court Denies Erla’s Request for Retrial

Guðmundur og Geirfinnur case Supreme court

In a decision handed down September 14, Erla Bolladóttir’s request for a retrial was denied. The court cited a lack of new developments in the case, and ordered Erla to pay some ISK 3 million in fees.

Convicted in 1980 in the notorious Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case, Erla has since fought for a retrial. Now, with her appeal rejected, she suggested at a press conference held Wednesday, September 21, that she may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more: States Opposes Compensation in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Case

“The condition for applying to the Human Rights Court is that you have exhausted all domestic means,” Erla said at the press conference. “This judgment of the court is the final word in this country, so it is definitely something I will consider.”

Erla also stated that she intended to pursue her fight for justice, saying that she was recently diagnosed with cancer: “Does anyone think I’m going to spend my last days lying to the world about this injustice?”

Read more: Compensation Awarded in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Case

The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case is one of the most controversial and notorious criminal cases in Iceland’s modern history, revolving around the disappearance of two young men, Guðmundur and Geirfinnur, in 1974. Six individuals were ultimately convicted in connection to the case, but the extreme interrogation measures taken by the police, including sleep deprivation, drugs, and water torture, have caused many to question the legitimacy of the confessions. The convicts have previously stated that they signed the confessions in order to put an end to their solitary confinements, which, in Erla’s case, was for 242 days.

The case has been described as one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in Europe by foreign media.

In 2018, a retrial of the case led to five acquittals, though this notably did not apply to Erla who was also charged with perjury in the case.

At the time of writing, around 1,100 have signed a petition in support of Erla’s retrial.

 

Can’t Trademark ‘Northern Lights’ District Court Rules

A hotel operator in Grindavík can’t claim sole use of the phrase ‘Northern Lights’ and prevent other hotels and tourism service providers from using it in their own branding, RÚV reports. The District Court of Reykjavík ruled on the matter on Friday, saying that ‘Northern Light’ is too common a phenomenon for a company to be allowed to trademark the English term. Allowing one Icelandic company the exclusive right to ‘Northern Lights’ (or even ‘Northern Light’ in the singular) would be a disproportionate restriction to impose on other guest accommodation providers.

Too Broad a Term to Trademark

The owners of Northern Light Inn in Grindavík, South Iceland requested that a ban be imposed on Grótta Northern Lights Apartments and Rooms in Seltjarnarnes, just outside of Reykjavík, preventing the latter business from using the English phrase ‘Northern Lights’ in their name.  The Grindavík hoteliers registered the phrase ‘Northern Light’ as a trademark in 2006 and believed that the Seltjarnarnes hotel’s use of it in their name, even in the plural, was an infringement on their exclusive right to the term. The matter was taken to the county magistrate, who imposed a ban on other businesses using the name. (At time of writing, the hotel was using the English name ‘Grótta Aurora Lights,’ presumably due to the standing ban.)

The magistrate’s decision has now been reversed by the District Court in Reykjavík. Reserving exclusive use of the term ‘Northern Light’ for one hotel in Iceland would mean that the trademark holders would be able to prevent businesses across the tourism sector to refer to the northern lights in their English-language marketing or publicity materials, regardless of what services they were offering, said the judge. ‘Northern Light(s)’ is a term that is “closely related to services that it’s well-known that tourists seek out in Icelandic tourism.” The fact that the trademark was for the phrase ‘Northern Light’ in the singular changes nothing, the judge continued, and nor had the plaintiffs in Grindavík proven that tourists had confused the hotel in Seltjarnarnes with the one in Grindavík because they both use ‘Northern Lights’ in their name.

See Also: Who Owns HÚ(H)!?

This isn’t the first time that there’s been a scuffle over the attempted tradmarking of a commonly used term or phrase in Iceland. In one notable example in 2018, Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson was not allowed to sell t-shirts he designed in honor of the Iceland’s World Cup-qualifying football team because the caption on the shirt was a trademark violation. Hugleikur’s ‘Man Celebrating,’ shirt showed a man in Iceland’s team uniform doing the now-famous ‘Viking Clap’ and shouting “HÚ!” However, Gunnar Þór Andrésson, a sports trainer at the Landspítali Hospital, claimed that the caption was too close to the exclamation “HÚH!” which he’d trademarked.

Sentenced to 16 Years in Prison for Rauðagerði Murder

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Reykjavík District Court sentenced Angjelin Sterkaj to 16 years in prison for the murder of Armando Bequirai this morning, RÚV reports. The other three defendants in the case were acquitted. After police presented him with evidence of his guilt, Angjelin confessed to the murder, which he claimed was committed in self-defence.

Armando Bequirai was shot to death outside his home on Rauðagerði street in Reykjavík on February 13, 2021. He was in his 30s and left behind a wife and two children, who were in the home at the time the murder took place. The police investigation in the case was the most extensive in Icelandic history, and suspicion soon arose that the murder was part of a settlement between criminal groups, domestic as well as international.

Deputy District Prosecutor Kolbrún Benediktsdóttir demanded that the sentence for Angjelin should be between 16 and 20 years, arguing that the murder was a well-organised execution. The three other defendants, Claudia Sofia Coelho Carvahlo, Shpetim Qerimi and Selivrada Mura, all pleaded not guilty and said they did not know what Angjelin had intended to do in Rauðagerði.

Angjelin was also sentenced to pay ISK 4 million [$31,000, €27,000] in damages to Armando’s widow, Þóranna Helga Gunnarsdóttir, as well as ISK 27 million [$209,000, €180,000] due to loss of income, and just over ISK 500,000 [$3,900, €3,300] for funeral costs. He was also sentenced to pay damages to Armando’s parents and his two children, as well as the legal fees of the defence.