Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal in Domestic Terror Case

Judge's gavel

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

Icelandic Court of Appeal Case before ECHR’s Grand Chamber

Sigríður Andersen.

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.

In Brief

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.

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.

Appeals Court Appointments Illegal, Says European Court of Human Rights

Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen.

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 recently established Court of Appeals. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) published the ruling in the case this morning, which states the Icelandic state is to pay the applicant €15,000 ($16,900) in respect of costs and expenses. At least two MPs have called for Justice Minister Sigríður Andersen to resign.

The appointments

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.

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 (USD 6,800/EUR 5,600) but denied their claim to liability for damages.

Call for resignation

Social Democratic Alliance chairman Logi Már Einarsson and Helga Vala Helgadóttir, chairperson of the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, say the ECHR’s ruling should prompt Sigríður to resign. Helga Vala called the issue a “complete mess” on the part of the Icelandic government. Logi Már stated the situation is “serious if people can’t trust they are able to have a fair trial.” Logi stated that it’s not yet known what legal effect the ruling will have, but that some believe that the Court of Appeals is not fit to serve its purpose.

Update: In light of the ruling, the Court of Appeals has decided to postpone all cases involving one of the four judges appointed by Sigríður in opposition to the selection committee’s suggestions until next week.