District Prosecutor Appeals Verdict in Hafnarfjörður Stabbing Case

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The District Prosecutor is appealing the sentences of three young men involved in a fatal stabbing in Hafnarfjörður; a fourth individual, who recorded the incident, will not face an appeal on her suspended sentence, RÚV reports.

Fatal stabbing in front of Fjarðarkaup

In April of this year, four individuals, three of them under 18, were detained by the Capital Area Police following the death of a 27-year-old man in front of the Fjarðarkaup grocery store in Hafnarfjörður. The man had been stabbed multiple times.

All of the individuals were later sentenced to prison. The eldest of the four, a 19-year-old, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The District Court ruled that he had not shown a deliberate intention to kill the victim. The other two boys, both under the age of 18, received two-year sentences. The fourth individual, a girl who recorded the attack on video, received a twelve-month suspended sentence.

As reported by RÚV, the District Prosecutor has decided to appeal to Landsréttur (i.e. the Court of Appeals) the verdict of the Reykjanes District Court against three young men. This was confirmed by Þorgils Þorgilsson, the defence attorney for one of them. According to RÚV, the verdict for the young woman who recorded the attack on video will not be appealed.

Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal in Domestic Terror Case

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The Court of Appeals (i.e. Landsréttur) has invalidated the decision of the Reykjavik District Court to dismiss the indictment in the so-called domestic terror case. The defence attorney for one of the two defendants told Vísir on Monday that his client, who was innocent, was not fearful of court proceedings.

64-count indictment presented in June

Last year, four Icelandic men were arrested suspected of terrorist plots against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released, while the other two were kept in custody for an extended period.

Although the initial case was dismissed in February of this year, a new 64-count indictment was presented in June, 2023. That indictment was also dismissed in early October on the grounds that the case’s limitations – namely that no specific time nor place for the intended terrorist acts had been laid out by the prosecution – hindered the defence in presenting its arguments. The District Prosecutor appealed the decision.

Supreme Court hearing anticipated

The Court of Appeals has now invalidated the decision of the Reykjavik District Court to dismiss the indictment, which means that the case will be reconsidered in the district court where the indictment stands.

In an interview with Vísir on Monday, Sveinn Andri Sveinsson – defence attorney for one of the two defendants in the case – stated that he disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision; the district court’s conclusion was well-founded.

“But the Court of Appeals has the final say. If one wants to find something positive in this, it will be better, in the long run, to have a clear and definite acquittal rather than the case ending ambiguously, which was where it seemed to be heading,” Sveinn observed. Sveinn Andri also told Mbl.is that his defendant was not fearful of the possibility of a trial: “My client is not fearful of the court proceedings because he is innocent.”

When asked about the case’s lengthy legal process, Sveinn compared it to an American comedy: “It’s like the script for Groundhog Day 2,” he stated, adding that he suspected that the case would eventually wind up in the Supreme Court. “One way or another.”

Former Minister Jón Baldvin Sentenced in Sexual Harassment Case

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former government minister and diplomat, has received a suspended sentence of two months’ imprisonment in a sexual harassment case related to an incident that took place at his home in Granada, Spain in 2018, Vísir reports. The Landsréttur Court of Appeals also ordered him to pay all court and appeal costs related to the case. Jón Baldvin’s defense attorney has said that an application will be made to the Supreme Court requesting the right to appeal the judgement.

An acquittal

The sexual harassment charges were first brought against Jón Baldvin in 2019, when Carmen Jóhannsdóttir accused him of having groped her buttocks during a dinner party in Granada the year before.

Resolution on the case was long delayed, however, in part because the Reykjavík District Court repeatedly dismissed it because the incident took place in Spain and was therefore not, the court contended, under its jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals overturned this dismissal on technical grounds: over four weeks had passed between the oral presentation of the call to stop the case and the court’s decision to throw the case out. As such, the District Court was forced to reopen the case.

Competing witness testimony also came into play. Carmen’s mother, Laufey Ósk Arnorsdóttir, was also in attendance at the party in 2018 and testified that she witnessed Jón Baldvin groping her daughter. The District Court rejected Laufey’s testimony, saying it did not correspond to Carmen’s version of events. Instead, it accepted the testimony of Jón Baldvin’s wife Bryndís Schram and a neighbor, who corroborated his version of events. The Reykjavík District Court finally ruled on the case in August 2021 and Jón Baldvin was acquitted of the charges.

A conviction

The case was then taken up again by the Court of Appeals, with the District Attorney seeking a suspended sentence of two to three months for Jón Baldvin. Carmen Jóhannsdóttir also sought damages totaling ISK one million [$7,086; €6,725]. Carmen’s claim for damages was rejected, but the Court of Appeals granted the DA’s suspended sentence of two months.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals stated that Carmen’s account of the incident was credible, and was, in fact, supported by that of her mother. It was the Court’s opinion that these testimonies outweighed Jón Baldvin’s denial.

A long history of accusations

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson was an MP for the Social Democratic Party, serving as Minister of Finance from 1987 to 1988 and Foreign Affairs Minister from 1988 to 1995. Following his time in parliament, he served as a diplomat, first to the US and Mexico from 1998 to 2002, and then to the Baltics from 2002 to 2005.

He has faced repeated accusations of sexual harassment and impropriety throughout his career, dating all the way back to 1967 when he was a teacher at an elementary school. In 2012, it was revealed that Jón Baldvin had sent his wife’s niece Guðrún Harðardóttir sexually explicit letters starting when she was 14 years old. Jón Baldvin denied that he sexually harassed Guðrún, but apologised for what he called a “lapse of judgement” in initiating the correspondence. Guðrún attempted to press charges against Jón Baldvin, but police dropped the case.

See Also: Former Minister Accused of Sexual Harassment Over 50-Year Period

In 2013, Jón Baldvin was invited to be a guest lecturer at the University of Iceland. When objections ensued, the university withdrew the invitation. Jón Baldvin protested the decision and threatened to take legal action, upon which the university agreed to pay him ISK 500,000 [$3,542; €3,361] in compensation and publicly apologised for how they handled the matter.

In 2019, Stundin published interviews with four women, including Carmen Jóhannsdóttir, in which each described incidents of sexual harassment by Jón Baldvin. A Facebook group called #metoo Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson was formed around the same time, and at least 12 women used the platform to share accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of the former politician.

In the face of all these incidents, however, Jón Baldvin has maintained his utmost innocence. He called Carmen’s charge “pure fabrication” and stated it was part of “a coordinated attack on my reputation.”

‘It hasn’t been an easy journey, but today, it all became worth it’

Carmen was abroad at the time that the Court of Appeals published its decision, but she spoke to reporters after she’d had some time to process the news. “This is very much a cause for celebration,” she said. “I know it’s not a heavy sentence, but it’s just the fact that he’s been sentenced at all. I didn’t expect it, to be perfectly honest, but I’m really happy about it.”

“It’s been a long process and of course, there’s already been one ruling on it. But I have to say that I’m really happy about this. I’m happy about this victory—not just for me, but also for everyone who’s been subjected to abuse at the hands of Jón Baldvin.”

“Hopefully, this will set a precedent for other judges and lawyers,” continued Carmen. “And also just for people who haven’t had the desire or ability to claim their rights—that it’s worth it, even if it’s hard. I’ll absolutely admit that it hasn’t been an easy journey, but today, it all became worth it.”

Isavia’s Former Service Director Found Guilty of Accepting Bribes

The former service director for Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, has been found guilty of accepting bribes in connection with the company’s purchase of tickets in the airport parking lot. RÚV reports that on Friday, the Court of Appeal overturned the previous ruling of the Reykjavík District Court in the case, which had found the service director guilty of fraud and money laundering, but not of accepting bribes.

As a result of Friday’s ruling, the service director also received a longer sentence: 15 months instead of 9 months, although 12 of these were suspended.

When the district prosecutor argued the case two years ago, the service director was said to have accepted roughly ISK 3.5 million [$27,110; €23,418] in bribes. The CEO of a tech company that sold Isavia parking tickets was also charged and said to have made a profit of ISK 4.5 million [$34,856; €30,110]. Friday’s ruling determined, however, that the former service director abused his position at Isavia to obtain illegal profits.

Both men were ordered to pay Isavia just over ISK 8 million [$61,963; €53,526]. Their assets were seized, and the proceeds of those seizures will be used to pay damages owed to Isavia.

Iceland to Request Review of Human Rights Court Ruling

Sigríður Andersen.

The Icelandic state will request that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) review its ruling that appointments to the Court of Appeals constitute a violation of human rights. Minister of Justice Kolbrún Þórdís Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced the decision at a cabinet meeting today. The ECHR ruling, published last month, has put into question the authority of Iceland’s newly-established Court of Appeals, which took effect in January 2018.

“We have examined different facets of this important issue in the last weeks,” stated the Minister of Justice. “After that examination, I consider it proper to request a review from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. I consider it essential to take this path in light of the importance of the matter in this country. I will continue to explore other aspects of the issue but at this stage no further decision will be made.”

The ECHR ruled last month that Iceland’s government violated Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights in the appointment of judges to the newly-formed Court of Appeals (Landsréttur). The Article outlines individuals’ right to a fair trial. Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen (above), who received heavy criticism for failing to follow the recommendations of a selection committee in her nominations to the court, resigned from her position following the ruling.

The ECHR’s ruling does not only affect Iceland, rather sets precedent throughout Europe. Whether the Grand Court decides to review the decision or not should be known within a few months.

Foster Application Rejection on Basis of Disability Illegal, Says Court

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The Child Protection Agency was wrong to reject an application submitted by Freyja Haraldsdóttir to foster a child without even giving her the opportunity to attend a course for people interested in fostering children, RÚV reports. This was the ruling of the Court of Appeals, or Landsréttur, and overturned the previous ruling made by the District Court.

The decision to reject Freyja’s application was based, among other things, on the agency’s assessment that she did not fulfill the requirement of being in overall good health. (Freyja, who is a former Bright Future MP and disability rights activist, has a genetic disorder called Osteogenesis imperfecta.) The agency also stated that there is no information or research available on how foster situations work out when the foster parent utilizes user-led personal assistance services, as Freyja does.

According to Landsréttur, laws related to people with disabilities state that in relevant situations, a person’s general health should be assessed without reference to their disability. User-led personal assistance services are, moreover, aimed at helping the recipient overcome limitations in their daily lives to whatever extent is possible and to better allow them to participate in society to the fullest extent.

Landsréttur determined that Freyja’s application had been rejected on the basis of her disability and was, therefore, illegal. This then renders the Child Protection Agency’s decision invalid.

Supreme Court Rules in Favour of Press

Iceland’s Supreme Court has ruled entirely in favour of news outlet Stundin and media company Reykjavík Media in a media injunction case that has been ongoing since October 2017. Kjarninn reports that on Friday, the Supreme Court rejected all claims made by Glitnir HoldCo Ltd, the corporation that oversees the remaining assets of Glitnir bank. The first of these claims was that the journalists involved in the case should be legally compelled to share evidence that might have bearing on it, even if they might, in the course of their testimony, inadvertently reveal information about confidential sources. The company’s secondary claim was that the information reported on by Stundin and Reykjavík Media—information that was obtained from leaked bank documents—should be protected by bank confidentiality.

Friday’s ruling did not address the validity of the original injunction, which was struck down by the Court of Appeals, or Landsréttur, in October 2018. At the time, Landsréttur ruled that Stundin did not have to give up the Glitnir files. It also found that further reporting from the files couldn’t be forbidden. In its ruling, Landsréttur stated that Stundin’s coverage had focused on the business dealings of then prime minister and current Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, as well as people connected to him, and that this information was undeniably important to the public, especially leading up to elections. It was Glitnir HoldCo Ltd’s contention that the files could be used to report on individuals’ financial affairs which were not matters of public import, a claim that Landsréttur rejected. In that Glitnir HoldCo Ltd appealed Landsréttur’s decision to the Supreme Court, however, the injunction has remained in place since.

Protection of sources is of the highest importance

When the Supreme Court agreed to take the case in November 2018, it did so with the understanding that it would not be reviewing the validity of the initial media injunction, but rather the validity of Glitnir HoldCo Ltd’s assertion that Stundin and Reykjavík Media should not be allowed to use the information found in the leaked files in their reportage and should turn the Glitnir files back over to the holding company. Glitnir HoldCo Ltd’s claims were based on their belief that the data in the files should be protected by bank confidentiality.

The Supreme Court rejected all of the company’s claims. The main of these was that both the District Court and Landsréttur were wrong not to compel three known witnesses, all journalists for the media outlets, to answer questions related to the existence, content, and custody of the leaked bank documents. The company maintained that the courts’ decision not to do this stripped it of its legitimate right to evidence—namely, how the documents were leaked to the media in the first place. The company claimed that being denied this evidence was grounds for automatic dismissal of the first District Court case.

The Supreme Court rejected this claim, stating that compelling the journalists to testify put their source(s) at risk, since there was a significant likeliness that during such testimony, journalists would inadvertently share the names of, or information about, their source(s). With its ruling, then, the Supreme Court determined that the importance of protecting sources takes precedence in such cases.

Public figures necessarily have less right to privacy

On the matter of bank confidentiality, the Supreme Court found it significant that the original injunction was levied on October 16, 2017—just 12 days before parliamentary elections—which made it all the more important that media coverage related to elected officials should not be any more restricted than was absolutely necessary. It noted, however, that the outlets’ coverage was primarily related to the former prime minister’s dealings with Glitnir bank in the lead up to the failure of the Icelandic banks in 2008 and that the tenor and focus of the coverage has largely been the same from the beginning, even after the injunction went into effect.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court noted that is generally understood that individuals involved in public offices have less claim to privacy and confidentiality than private citizens. The role of the media in a democratic society must be considered in such cases, it continued, as must the relevance of the topics and dealings that were under discussion in this instance. “In light of the enormous overall impact that the banking collapse had on Icelandic society, it’s only natural that a reckoning like this would be conducted in the media and the public discussion that usually follows,” read the judgement. The business dealings of former prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson fall within the purview of open public debate, concluded the Supreme Court. Moreover, the business dealings of people close to Bjarni are also open to public discussion, as they are “so interwoven with” those of Bjarni’s that “they should not be separated.”

Finally, the court found that prior to the injunction, all media coverage of parties whose connection to Bjarni Benediktsson was not clear “immediately” was focused on parties who were publicly prominent in the run-up to, and wake of, the 2008 banking collapse and who, therefore, enjoy less privacy and confidentiality than the average private citizen. This was further evidenced by the fact that the media outlets’ coverage of these parties and their part in the 2008 banking collapse has not needed to be adjusted in any meaningful way following the injunction.

The damage is “irreversible”

 Although today’s Supreme Court ruling was in the media’s favour, however, Stundin editors Ingibjörg Dögg Kjartansdóttir and Jón Trausti Reynisson and Reykjavík Media Editor-in-Chief Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson expressed dismay at the fact that although “Freedom Has Won,” in the end, the effect of the 522-day media injunction still had what they consider to be a seriously deleterious effect on public discourse. For one, it “…without a doubt, had a deterrent effect on people in our society who hold information or data that has significant relevance to the public, people who want to come to the media in the name of justice,” they wrote in a public statement on Facebook.  They continued by saying that the possible legal costs associated with losing a case like this are not enough to deter unlawful injunctions from being made about topics that are of vital public importance. Regardless of the outcome of the case, they concluded, “[t]he fact remains that there has been a violation of the public’s right to information and when you really think about it, the right to free elections.”

Ingibjörg Dögg repeated this sentiment in an interview with RÚV, wherein she said that although she and her publication felt a sense victory with the ruling, the entire situation remained “incredibly sad.” Given the relevance of the information that was being published had to the 2017 elections, the damage that this injunction did is irreversible.

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.

Minister of Justice Will Not Resign Over Court of Human Rights Decision

Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen.

Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen sees no reason to resign over the European Court of Human Rights verdict. The court ruled that Iceland violated Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights when Sigríður Andersen appointed judges to the recently established Court of Appeals. The article is meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial.

Minister Sigríður has said the ruling is both unexpected and without precedent. She stated she sees the court’s verdict as a somewhat split opinion. “There are contrasting views which were put forth in the opinions of the majority and the minority. So we’re inspecting the ruling now. It’s quite clear that it can have repercussions all over Europe,” Sigríður stated.

A team from the Ministry of Justice as well as the State Attorney is now investigating the ruling and is considering appealing the decision to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, according to Sigríður. The decisions to appeal must be made within three months.

Sigríður said it’s not a surprise that folks have demanded her resignation. When asked if the verdict should lead her to resignation, “No, I don’t believe the verdict gives cause for that. I remind people and reiterate that the stance of Icelandic courts regarding the legitimacy of the appointments is quite clear. And all three levels of government played a part in the appointment, which was confirmed to be legitimate by the Supreme Court of Iceland,” the Minister stated.

She believes the verdict has no direct legal effect in Iceland. None the less, the Court of Appeal has decided to postpone all cases which were to be handled by the four judges which were affected by the appointment. The cases will be postponed by a week.

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 with 33 votes to 29, with one MP abstaining. Read more of Iceland Review’s coverage yesterday.

Update: The Minister has announced that she will step aside while the matter is being resolved. Read more here.

Thomas Møller Olsen Appeals for Reduced Sentence in Birna Case

Thomas Møller Olsen, who last year was sentenced to nineteen years in prison for drug smuggling and the murder of Birna Brjánsdóttir, is pleading his innocence in Iceland’s recently established ‘Land’s Court,’ or court of appeals, RÚV reports. Olsen is petitioning for his sentence to be reduced, redirecting the blame for Birna’s murder to his shipmate.

Opening remarks started last week. In his statement, Olsen’s defense attorney, Björgvin Jónsson, said that the prosecution’s statement of offense is so open and general that it would prove hard to defend in court. He criticized and cast doubt upon the prosecution’s interpretations of the case, as well as the aspects of it that they emphasized, such as how Birna’s body made it into the sea. He also questioned the evidence that was used to convict his client.

Twenty-year-old Birna Brjánsdóttir disappeared on Saturday morning, January 14th, after a night out. The case shook the entire Icelandic nation, prompting the most extensive search in Iceland’s history, involving over eight hundred people. Eight days after her disappearance, Birna’s body was found naked on the beach near Selvogsviti lighthouse, on the Reykjanes peninsula in South-West Iceland. Olsen’s sentence is longer than typical: The penalty framework for manslaughter in Iceland is life imprisonment, although sentences almost never surpass 16 years in prison. The smuggling of drugs is punishable by up to 12 years.

Olsen has continually tried to cast the blame for Birna’s death on his shipmate. In her statement, state prosecutor Sigríður Friðjónsdóttir called the defendant’s contention that his crewmate was responsible for the murder was “absurd.” His crewmate would have only had twenty minutes to drive to where Birna was abducted in downtown Reykjavík, force her into the back of his car, remove her clothing and dispose of it, and then force her into the sea in the southern part of the Suðurnes peninsula. If that scenario wasn’t unlikely enough, he would have also had to do this, she said, while extremely drunk and without having ever held a driver’s license.