Iceland Wins Trade Mark Dispute Against Iceland

Iceland supermarket

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO)’s Grand Board of appeal has confirmed the EUIPO’s 2019 ruling that UK-based supermarket chain Iceland Foods Ltd. trademark on the word “Iceland” within the European Union be invalidated.

In 2016, The Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs, SA – Business Iceland and Íslandsstofa filed a request for a declaration of invalidity against Iceland Foods Ltd’s EU-wide trademark for the word Iceland. According to a press release from the Confederation of Enterprises, Iceland Foods, which registered the trademark in 2014, has hindered Icelandic companies in using their country of origin in the marketing of their products and services. They give an example of the supermarket chain finding issue with the registry of trademarks such as INSPIRED BY ICELAND  and ICELANDIC.

In 2019, EUIPO ruled in favour of Iceland – the country – and invalidated the supermarket’s trademark entirely, noting that “It has been adequately shown that consumers in EU countries know that Iceland is a country in Europe and also that the country has historical and economic ties to EU countries, in addition to geographic proximity.” According to the ruling, Iceland Foods LTD were free to continue the use of their name and logo but could not prohibit Icelandic companies to use the country name. Iceland Foods LTD appealed the decision to the EUIPO’s Grand Board of Appeal, which has now confirmed the ruling.

Deported Asylum Seekers Have Right to Reevaluation, Appeals Board Rules

Asylum seekers protest Reykjavík

The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has ruled that a group of asylum seekers have a right to a reevaluation of their applications, RÚV reports. As many from the group have already been deported to Greece, however, a lawyer for the appellants has stated that it might prove difficult for his clients to reappear before the Directorate of Immigration.

Difficult to implement the ruling

In October, Reykjavík’s District Court ruled in favour of Palestinian Suleiman Al Masr in his case against the government. The court concluded, among other things, that Al Masr could not be blamed for the delay in the government’s processing of his application, which resulted in his not being deported to Greece (while social restrictions were in effect and travellers were obligated to submit a negative COVID test).

Following the decision, Suleiman’s lawyer, Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva, asked the Appeals Board to rule in similar cases. The Appeals Board published the rulings this morning.

“There are over twenty rulings and over ten individuals whose applications have been reopened because the premises were similar to Al Masr’s case. For many of them, the decision means that it’s rather likely that they will be granted asylum in Iceland,” Helgi told RÚV.

All in all, Helgi believes that there are approximately 100 asylum seekers who have the same cause for appeal.

“But what’s interesting is that many of the asylum seekers have already been deported and some of them were arrested and put into custody not so long ago,” Helgi observed, adding that many of those dwelling in refugee camps in Greece would find it difficult to return to Iceland and appear before the Directorate of Immigration.

“It’s not uncommon for individuals,” Helgi explained, “who’ve been asylum seekers in Greece for some time, and who don’t have valid visas, for example, to have arrived in Iceland on the basis of Greek travel documents. In some instances, those documents are now expired. It could take a long time to renew those papers,” Helgi remarked, while also noting that the Greek asylum system was on the verge of collapse, as had been widely reported.

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.

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.

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.