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Law Establishing the Icelandic Supreme Court – Pic of the Week

October 6, 2019, this coming Sunday, marks the centennial of the Icelandic Law on the Supreme Court of October 6, 1919 (Lög om hæstarjett Nr. 22 af 6 okt. 1919), which provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court in Iceland. The Supreme Court replaced the National Court (Landsyfirréttur), whose decisions could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Denmark. The Supreme Court of Iceland became the highest court of the land, and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Denmark was no longer recognized (art. 1).

Lög um hæstarjett. Nr. 22 6 okt. 1919. Available in Stjornartidindi, //lccn.loc.gov/93664222. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

At the first session of the Icelandic Supreme Court in February 1920, Sveinn Björnsson, who later became the first president of Iceland, described the historic event as “[t]he tangible proof that [Icelanders] have regained sovereignty over all [their] affairs.”

The Law on the Supreme Court defined what the Icelandic Supreme Court should look like. For instance, it provided that the court must have no less than five justices (art. 5). It also provided that the seat of the court must be Reykjavik (art. 12) and that the Supreme Court justices must be Icelandic citizens (art.13). A law defining exactly who was an Icelandic citizen was passed the same day as the Law on the Supreme Court (Lög um Ríkisborgarétt, hversu menn fá hann og missa Nr. 21 6. okt 1919).

Old Penitentiary Building (Hegningarhúsið) on Skólavördustígur in Reykjavík. Photo by Flickr user Guðmundur D. Haraldsson (January 8, 2004). Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

When the court opened in 1920 it was first housed in the Old Penitentiary Building (Hegningarhúsið) on Skólavördustígur in Reykjavík. Today it has its own building on Arnarhól Hill. It is now made up of nine justices, following an amendment to the Act on the Icelandic Supreme Court passed in 1994).

Up until January 1, 2018, the Iceland court system was a two-tier system with the Supreme Court as the final place of recourse. Today, it is a three-tier system, with cases commencing at the District Court level (Héraðsdómstólar), and appeals brought before the Court of Appeal (Landsrettur). Cases decided by the Court of Appeal can then be appealed to the Supreme Court of Iceland, subject to its approval to hear the case (similar to the certiorari process in the United States).

Icelandic Supreme Court. Photo by Flickr user JasonParis (May 1, 2010). Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Published cases can be found on the Supreme Court website (in Icelandic).

Law Library Online Resources on Icelandic Law

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