Court of Appeal Overturns Verdict, Mediator Steps Aside

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) has ruled that the Efling union does not need to hand over its membership registry to the state mediator, RÚV reports. Following the ruling, the state mediator requested permission from the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market to step aside. The Director General of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) has stated that he regrets the mediator’s decision.

Court of Appeal overturns ruling

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal overturned the Reykjavík District Court’s ruling in the labour dispute between the Efling union and SA: the Efling union is not legally obliged to hand over its membership registry prior to voting on the mediator’s mediation proposal, RÚV reports.

The court ruled that the state mediator is allowed to take the initiative to hold a vote; however, nowhere does the law state that a party in a labour dispute is obliged to hand over its membership registry to the state mediator prior to voting takes place.

The mediator’s authority to demand membership registries was enshrined in a law on mediation in labour disputes – which was abolished in 1978. The verdict of the Appeal Court quoted a speech by the  then Chairperson of the Social Affairs Committee who advocated the change. In the speech, the Chairperson stated that the purpose of the repeal was to reduce the power or position of the mediator.

RÚV notes that Efling and the state mediator struck an agreement last week to accept the court’s decision and abstain from appealing the decision of the Court of the Appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a statement from Efling sent to the media yesterday, the union demanded that state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson resign from the dispute immediately. “This is the worst imaginable verdict on the working methods of the state mediator,” Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the Chair of the Efling union, was quoted as saying.

Guðmundur accepts Aðalstein’s request

After the ruling by the Court of Appeal yesterday, Aðalsteinn Leifsson told the media that he would be requesting permission from the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, to step down from his role as mediator between Efling and SA.

“My opinion is that, under the circumstances,” Aðalsteinn Leifsson told Vísir yesterday, “the character should always give way to the issue, which is why I suggested to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Market that appointing a special mediator in this dispute, or a mediating committee, might prove wise. I would then step aside in this particular dispute and pass the baton over to others, in hopes that they find a solution. The minister is currently mulling my suggestion over.”

Yesterday evening, Vísir reported that Guðmundur Ingi had accepted Aðalsteinn’s request and that an assistant mediator would be appointed to resolve the dispute.

Expects further developments over the coming days

In an interview with RÚV yesterday evening, Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director General of SA, said that he regretted the state mediator’s decision to withdraw from the wage dispute – but that he supported his decision. Halldór Benjamín added that yesterday’s ruling did not change the fact that the mediating proposal was valid and legitimate in all respects.

“There are indeed a lot of twists and turns in this dispute,” Halldór Benjamín told RÚV, “and I think that there will be even more twists and turns in the coming days.”

Court Rulings Shed New Light on Domestic Terror Plot Defendants

Weapons and ammunition

Two recently released verdicts from the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) shed new light on the two defendants in the ongoing domestic terror case, RÚV reports. One of the defendants described himself as a Nazi while the other maintained that he was a humanist who believed in God.

Benefit of the doubt

In December, formal charges were brought against two men suspected of plotting a domestic terror attack in Iceland. They have been free to travel since the Court of Appeal revoked their custody during the middle of last month.

When the district attorney filed to extend custody over the two men, the Court of Appeal concluded that it was impossible to establish that there was a strong suspicion that the men had intended to commit acts of terrorism. The District Court of Reykjavík had previously ruled that the suspects must be given the benefit of the doubt, as a detailed evaluation by a psychiatrist had shown that they did not pose a threat.

Known each other for some time

As reported by RÚV, the Court of Appeal recently published two rulings made in October concerning the case. The hearings shed new light on the two defendants, who, at the time, had been in custody and isolation for almost three weeks. The documents show that the men had known each other for a long time and, among other things, were colleagues at a construction company.

One of the men has been charged with attempted terrorism. A little over a week before he was arrested, the police had found three 3D printers and four firearms in his home. He was later taken into custody but released a week later as the police had not been able to access his phone. When they finally managed to access his phone, the police discovered messages between the man and the other defendant where they discussed, among other things, Nazism, mass murder, and the purchase and sale of weapons. The two men were subsequently arrested in a large-scale operation by the National Police Commissioner, the district prosecutor, and the Capital Area Police.

Claimed to be a humanist

During the first hearing, the defendant admitted that he had engaged in conversations with the other man: that they were friends and that they shared a special sense of humour. He stated that he was unemployed, having lost his job two months earlier, that he believed in God, and that he had been confirmed into the church. He maintained, however, that he didn’t follow politics and bore no ill will towards politicians.

He also stated that the messages he had sent were meaningless and were a product of their odd sense of humour: He was a humanist who cared about LGBT people and people of colour. He added that many people considered his friend to be a Nazi who hated both Jews and Muslims. He could not, however, explain why he had been searching the internet for the date of the annual celebration of the police; he was bitter and hurt but did not want to explain it further.

Intended to produce methamphetamine and not explosives

In a hearing one week later, the defendant repeated that his comments were meaningless, that he and his friend shared a dark sense of humour. He was not an angry man and that, generally speaking, he cared for other people.

In the third hearing, he reported that the list of chemicals found by the police was not intended for bomb-making but for the production of methamphetamine. In the fourth hearing, he stated that all of their talk about the police annual celebration and the Pride parade – as well as their talk about assassinating political leaders –  had been a joke. He concluded by saying that he was ashamed of his comments.

Discontent with LGBTQ people and foreigners

During the first hearing, the other defendant, charged with complicity, described himself as a recluse and admitted that others called him a Nazi. He said that he often offended people by speaking openly, something he was aware of and that had led to his sense of isolation.

He stated that he was part of the group the Right Wing and that he believed gays were given too much space in society and should be kept away from children. He also expressed discontent with the many foreigners streaming into the country, who did not work and lived off the system. He added that he was a big weapon and bomb enthusiast. His partner had aired the idea of running people down during the Pride parade but that he hadn’t actively participated in the conversation, that he had just gone along with it.

A week later, a statement was taken from him again. During that interview, he said that he realised that the data that the police had gathered would look very bad for him. “He claimed to be a Nazi,” the ruling states.

Repeated during the hearing that he was a Nazi

He described the other defendant as being vengeful and bitter as he had been refused a firearms licence; it had taken a toll on him. He denied, however, that he had planned to carry out terrorist acts. Asked why others described him as anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic, he said that it probably had to do with his being a Nazi. He repeated that observation later in the same hearing.

In the third hearing, the man’s reasoning had slightly altered, RÚV notes. He stated that all the talk about terrorism, assassinations, and bomb-making was meaningless. He had been drunk when he made those comments. He admitted, however, that he had saved a video of a certain terrorist attack with the words that the terrorist in the attack was “a god” but again claimed that he had been inebriated.

Tried to cool his partner down

During the third hearing, he outlined his concerns about his friend, whom he said had gone too far in his discussions about drone strikes. At that time, he had begun to believe that his friend could carry out such plans and that he had attempted to cool his friend down.

The indictment against the men will be registered in the Reykjavík District Court in the middle of this month. The National Police Commissioner raised the alert level after the men were released. No information was received as to whether the office would have a special presence in the district court when the men appear before the court, RÚV notes.

Europol Experts Believed Terror Suspects Posed Imminent Threat

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The two men recently charged with planning a domestic terrorist attack were believed to pose an imminent threat by Europol experts, Vísir reports. A ruling made by the Court of Appeal, published yesterday, notes that the defendants had discussed launching an attack on Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, and the police authorities.

The Court of Appeal overturns custody ruling

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal overturned a ruling by Reykjavík’s District Court revoking the extended custody of two men recently charged with violating Article No. 100 of Iceland’s General Penal Code (pertaining to acts of terrorism). The Court of Appeal ruled that the defendants, who had been held in custody since September, were to be released on the basis of a mental assessment that concluded that they were not a danger to themselves or others.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal published its ruling on its  website. The judgment references the overturned Reykjavík District Court ruling, which notes that the police authorities had consulted with Europol experts on the case. Having reviewed the case files, the Europol experts concluded that the two men were likely to take imminent action and commit acts of terrorism in Iceland.

Had begun penning his own manifesto

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this year, when the defendants were arrested in September, the police seized semi-automatic rifles, including AK-47s and AR-15s, along with ammunition and components for 3D-printed guns. Court documents state that the police also seized an item that could be inserted into an AR-15 rifle so as to make it automatic.

Court documents also note that the men possessed material concerning known terrorists and their atrocities, in addition to manifestos. The suspect who is the subject of the ruling denied that he was planning an act of domestic terrorism, maintaining that comments concerning various terrorist atrocities were harmless: they had been made in jest and under the influence of alcohol. The same held for all the other material that they had acquired.

Court documents further maintain that the defendant had begun to pen his own manifesto.

Last night, RÚV reported that the District Attorney would yet again motion for custody.

 

 

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.

 

Minister of Justice’s Court Appointments Were Illegal: Ruling Upheld by ECHR

Sigríður Andersen.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has confirmed its ruling that Iceland violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial, in the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal. The Icelandic government had appealed the ruling last year, but it has now been unanimously upheld by all 17 of the ECHR’s Grand Chamber judges. This is the ECHR’s final ruling in the case and it cannot be appealed.

The verdict, published yesterday morning, emphasises the importance of the judiciary’s independence and asserts that former Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen’s appointment of four judges to the court breached the procedure established by Icelandic law. Sigríður did not give sufficient reasoning for appointing different judges from those that had been selected by a selection committee.

Undermined Procedure and Failed to Heed Advice

Sigríður’s appointments “had raised serious fears of undue interference in the judiciary and had thus tainted the legitimacy of the whole procedure,” according to the ruling, “especially since the Minister belonged to one of the political parties composing the majority in the coalition government, by whose votes alone her proposal had been adopted in Parliament.”

“Lastly, the Minister’s failure to comply with the relevant rules was all the more serious as she had been reminded of her legal obligations on a number of occasions by the legal advisers in her own Ministry, by the Chairman of the Evaluation Committee and by the ad hoc Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice,” the ruling continues.

Ruling Not Legally Binding, Says Current Minister of Justice

Iceland’s current Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir stated that the ECHR’s ruling is not legally binding and it is not necessary for Icelandic authorities to respond to it in any way. According to Áslaug, the appointments to the Appeal Court were legal according to Icelandic law. The ruling will be taken seriously but it is unlikely that the case will be reopened, she stated.

A Brief Overview

Iceland’s Court of Appeals (Landsréttur) was established on January 1, 2018, as a new mid-tier court between district courts and the Supreme Court of Iceland. Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen received heavy criticism from opposition MPs for failing to follow the recommendations of a selection committee in her nominations of judges to the new court. In March 2018, opposition MPs put forth a motion of no-confidence against the minister, which was voted down by a margin of four votes.

The four aspiring Court of Appeals judges whose nominations were passed over by the minister have all sued the state for compensation and damages. The Supreme Court has ruled two of them be compensated ISK 700,000 ($6,800/€5,600) but denied their claim to liability for damages.

On March 12, 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the appointments overseen by Sigríður constituted a violation of Article 6 Section 1 (right to a tribunal established by law) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sigríður resigned as Minister of Justice the following day. On September 9, 2019 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Icelandic government’s request that the case be referred to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber that has now issued its ruling, discussed above.

Case Could Set a Precedent

It is quite rare for the European Court of Human to accept requests for appeals to its Grand Chamber: RÚV reports that just over 5% of such requests have been approved. The fact this case concerning Iceland’s Appeal Court was accepted suggests it is considered an important case that could set a precedent for others in the future.

Too Few Judges on Court of Appeal

Judge's gavel

Iceland’s Court of Appeal has been operating with 13 judges as opposed to its mandated 15 for months, Fréttablaðið reports. In March of this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled four of the Court’s judges had been appointed illegally, and their presence impeded individuals’ right to a fair trial. The lack of judges has led to a backlog of cases at the Court.

Read more: ECHR Rules Appeals Court Appointments Illegal

The same month the ECHR published its ruling, the Judicial Administration proposed temporarily increasing the number of judges in the Court of Appeal in order to address the problem, but the Ministry of Justice has yet to decide on the matter. Benedikt Bogason, chairman of the Judicial Administration’s board, wonders at the length of time the Ministry has been silent on the proposal.

The four judges whom the ruling concerned are on temporary leave. Two of their positions have been filled by temporary replacements, but the other two are empty. What’s more, the replacement judges’ contracts run out at the end of the year. “Then the number of judges could go down again to 11,” Benedikt stated.

While temporarily increasing the number of judges on the Court of Appeal could save money and help cases proceed faster, it would require new legislation, and lawyers and members of government are not exactly in agreement over how the appointment should be carried out.

When asked about the proposal, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir stated that a decision had not been made on whether the number of judges would be increased.

Attempts to Make Court of Appeal Fully Operational Unsuccessful

In late June, the Judicial Administration tried unsuccessfully to react to what they refer to as an emergency situation in the Court of Appeal, RÚV reports. Four out of the court’s 15 judges haven’t participated in court’s procedures since mid-March when the European Court of Human Rights declared the appointment of these four judges illegal. Since the court isn’t fully occupied, court process times are increasing and appealed cases are piling up.

European Court of Human Rights declares the appointment of judges illegal 

The Judicial Agency sought to get the contested judges to go on paid leave until the end of the year. This would allow them to appoint new judges to replace them, making the court fully operational. Three out of four did not request the leave at this moment and the fourth said they would let their position be known shortly. A number of cases await the court and it is estimated that around 500 cases will have amassed on the court’s agenda by the end of the year.

The European Court of Human Rights won’t decide until September 9 at the earliest if the court’s Grand Chamber Panel will review the case. A month ago, The Ministry of Justice asked the president of the Court of Appeal how the court would be impacted if four of the judges were out of commission, how the judges would react if the case would be reviewed and also if it wasn’t. Hervör Þorcvaldsdóttir, president of the Court of Appeal, replied June 24 that the four contested judges of the Court of Appeal would like to resume their positions if the case were to be reviewed by the Grand Chamber. The answer also included that the court process time would continue to increase if the court wasn’t fully occupied. According to the Court of Appeal’s office manager, the situation will soon be grave, estimating that 482 unprocessed cases will have accrued by the end of the year.

If the Grand Chamber reviews the case, the result can be expected by the end of next year. Action must be taken in order to make sure the Court of Appeal is fully occupied, either to appoint judges for a longer period or to appoint new ones. Both methods will require an amendment to the law. To react to the emergency, the judicial Administration suggested that additional judges would be appointed from the end of summer vacations to the end of the year. No amendment would be needed but the four judges would have to request paid leave, something they can’t be ordered to do. The president and the director of the Judicial Administration met with the four judges June 25. Three of the judges did not request paid leave at that moment and the fourth said they would let their position be known shortly.

Þórdís Kolbrún Gylfadóttir New Minister of Justice

Pictured above: Iceland’s cabinet. Þórdís Kolbrún sits far left. Photo: Golli.

The current Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir will add the title Minister of Justice to her duties. Þórdís will take on the post temporarily, replacing Sigríður Andersen after she stepped down in the wake of a decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that Sigríður’s appointments to the Court of Appeal had been unlawful and impeded individuals’ rights to a fair trial.

This turn of events was revealed earlier today after a closed meeting was held by MPs of the Independence Party.

Þórdís Kolbrún is a member of the Independence Party and has been a member of Parliament for the Northwest constituency since 2016. She has held her role as Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Innovation since January 2017, when she became the youngest woman to became an Icelandic minister, at the age of 29. Þórdís Kolbrún is vice chairperson of the Independence Party and replaces her fellow party member Sigríður Andersen.

New Minister of Justice Chosen Today

Sigríður Andersen

A cabinet meeting will be held at 4.00pm this afternoon to decide on a new Minister of Justice, RÚV reports. The post was vacated yesterday when Sigríður Andersen announced she would be stepping down from the position, following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that her appointments to the Icelandic Court of Appeal violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial.

No such thing as “temporary leave”

Though Sigríður described her departure as temporary leave, Professor of Political Science Eiríkur Bergmann says there is no precedent for such an action in Alþingi. “A minister must be appointed to office by presidential decree. Once that happens [this afternoon], Sigríður Andersen is just as much not a minister as everyone else who is not a minister.” In order to return to the post, Sigríður would need to be reappointed officially.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated yesterday that it was most likely the position would be filled by a current minister or an Independence Party MP. Bjarni stated that it wasn’t out of the question for Sigríður to return to the post. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said it was too early to say whether Sigríður would return to the ministry, but previously expressed her support of her decision to step down.

Katrín and Bjarni both expressed support for appealing the European Court of Human Rights’ decision, as the outcome is consequential for the government.

Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen Steps Down

Sigríður Andersen.

Pictured above: Sigríður Andersen leaving the press conference today.

Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen announced minutes ago that she will step down as Minister of Justice until the matter pertaining to the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal has been resolved. She revealed this turn of events at a press conference in the Ministry of Justice minutes ago.

Sigríður belives her presence will be a disturbance during the handling of the matter, which revolves around her appointment of judges to the Icelandic Court of Appeal. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the appointment was in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights which ensures individuals’ right to a fair trial.

Sigríður expressed her belief the ECHR’s decision would be appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Sigríður stated the decision was her own. Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir has stated that the pair spoke together yesterday. Katrín confirmed the decision was made by Sigríður, but that she supports it, and feels that Sigríður is shouldering responsibility for the matter by stepping down.

At this point in time, no decision has been made regarding who will step in for Sigríður as Minister of Justice.