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115 Years of Legal Education in Iceland

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One hundred and fifteen years ago today, on March 4, 1904, the Danish King Christian IX (the “parent-in-law of Europe”) signed a law to establish an Icelandic Law School in Reykjavik.

The Law on Establishment of a Law School in Iceland (Lov om Oprettelse af en Lovskole i Island) (Nr. 6 Lov af 4de Marts 1904). Photo by Donna Sokol.
The Law on Establishment of a Law School in Iceland (Lov om Oprettelse af en Lovskole i Island) (Nr. 6 Lov af 4de Marts 1904). Photo by Donna Sokol.

The law was signed after Iceland gained home rule in 1904 and before it gained its independence in 1944 and can be seen as a step towards independence from Denmark.

The formal title of the law is Lov om Oprettelse af en Lovskole i Island [The Law on Establishment of a Law School in Iceland] (Nr. 6 Lov af 4de Marts 1904).

 Although the law was fairly brief, it did make a number of stipulations:

  • It provided that the Law School should be established in Reykjavik (§ 1)
  • That the king could appoint one permanent professor and that he should be paid DKK 4,000 annually. The Landsoverretten’s [Icelandic High Court] Deputy Judge should also teach at the school with an annual salary of DKK 500 (in addition to his salary at the Icelandic High Court). A further DKK 2,500 was provided to be used for “additional teaching ”
  • The Icelandic Minister (at that time Hannes Hafstein) was made responsible for establishing the rules for the school (§ 3).
  • Through the law the King also established a legal monopoly by requiring that all persons who wanted to practice law in Iceland must have completed a degree from the Icelandic law school (§ 4).

Althingi [Icelandic Parliament] Building Photo by Kurt Carroll.
Althingi [Icelandic Parliament] Building Photo by Kurt Carroll.
Seeing that the law school was not yet established at the time the law entered into force, the law included an exception to the legal monopoly. This exception allowed persons who had completed their legal studies at the University of Copenhagen (“absolveret juridisk Attestats ved Kobehavns Universitet”) no less than three years prior to the opening of the law school to practice law in Iceland.

Under the 1904 law, the school could not start operating until money for that purpose had been allocated through the Finanslov [Government Spending Act] (§ 5 Lov om Oprettelse af en Lovskole i Island).

The law school was a separate institution from 1908 until 1911, when on the centennial of Jón Sigurðsson’s (leader of the movement for Icelandic independence) birth, the University of Iceland was formally established. Upon its establishment, the law school (Lagaskólinn) became part of the university. The University of Iceland met in the Althingi building from 1911 to 1940.

Today there are two law schools in Iceland: University of Iceland School of Law and University of Reyjavik School of Law.

If you are interested in learning more about Iceland or Denmark please visit the Global Legal Monitor for Danish and Icelandic legal developments, or check out our Danish and  Icelandic  collections, or our other posts on Denmark and Iceland.

Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. The author information has been updated to reflect that Elin is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.


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