Supreme Court of Iceland

The Supreme Court of Iceland (Icelandic: Hæstiréttur Íslands, lit. Highest Court of Iceland) is the final court of appeal in the judiciary of Iceland. It is also the oldest of the current courts of law in Iceland and the highest of the three Icelandic court branches, the others being the District Courts of Iceland and the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur).

Notwithstanding the fact that the Court is not mentioned by name in the Constitution of Iceland but only its justices, it is validated in the Courts Act No. 50/2016. The Supreme Court of Iceland is located at the Dómhúsið (Courthouse) at Arnarhóll in Reykjavík, a building that was specially built for that purpose and that came into use in 1996.

The current President of the court is Þorgeir Örlygsson.[1]

Supreme Court of Iceland
Hæstiréttur Íslands
Hæstiréttur Íslands 2018
Supreme Court of Iceland building in 2018
Established16 February 1920
Coordinates64°08′52″N 21°55′56″W / 64.14778°N 21.93222°WCoordinates: 64°08′52″N 21°55′56″W / 64.14778°N 21.93222°W
TypeSupreme court
Composition methodPresidential nomination with Minister of Justice (Iceland) confirmation
Authorised byConstitution No. 33/1944
Courts Act No. 50/2016
Judge term lengthLife tenure
Number of positions7, by statute
8, temporarily (in Icelandic)
CurrentlyÞorgeir Örlygsson [1]
Since1 January 2017 [1]
Lead position ends31 December 2021 [1]
CurrentlyHelgi Ingólfur Jónsson [1]
Since1 January 2017 [1]
Lead position ends31 December 2021 [1]


The Court was founded under the Supreme Court Act No. 22/1919 and held its first session on 16 February 1920.[2] Previously, the Landsyfirréttur, or National High Court of Iceland, had been the highest domestic court, but a line of appeal had been available to the Supreme Court of Denmark in Copenhagen.[2] The establishment of the Supreme Court moved the final word in Icelandic cases home to Iceland.[2]

The first justices of the Supreme Court were Kristján Jónsson (President), Halldór Daníelsson, Eggert Briem, Lárus H. Bjarnason and Páll Einarsson. The first three men had been the judges of the old National High Court, which had operated throughout the 19th century but was abolished with the founding of the Supreme Court of Iceland in 1920.


The Court is composed of nine justices appointed by Presidential nomination with Minister of the Interior confirmation and presided over by the President of the Court or the Vice-President in his absence.

The Supreme Court justices elect a President and a Vice-President. The President of the Supreme Court of Iceland manages the affairs of the Court, directs court sessions and divides tasks among the justices and the employees of the Court and maintains disciplinary supervision. They are responsible for the operation and finances of the Court and represents the Court towards the public. Under Article 8 of the Constitution of Iceland the President of the Supreme Court is one of the three holders of the power of the President of Iceland in their absence, the others being the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament.

As of October 2017, the justices of the Supreme Court are:

  • Benedikt Bogason
  • Greta Baldursdóttir
  • Helgi Ingólfur Jónsson (Vice-President)
  • Karl Axelsson
  • Markús Sigurbjörnsson
  • Ólafur Börkur Þorvaldsson
  • Viðar Már Matthíasson
  • Þorgeir Örlygsson (President)


The Court operates in two divisions, where either three or five justices sit to hear a case before the Court. For especially important cases, the President of the Court may decide that the bench be constituted by seven justices. When a case is heard by five or seven justices, these shall usually be the most senior justices on the Court. The main rule is that cases are presented orally before the Supreme Court, and the court sessions are generally open to the public. The President of the Supreme Court presides over the session or, in his absence, the Vice-President. If neither of them is hearing the case, the most senior justice in session will preside.

Lawyers appearing before the Court wear black robes with blue lapels, whilst the justices wear distinctive blue robes with black lapels, a custom which reputably began with the suggestion of the first lawyers to appear before the Supreme Court, Eggert Claessen and Sveinn Björnsson (later President of Iceland).

As soon as an oral case presentation is finished, the justices retire for a closed meeting to discuss and vote on the case. One justice will be held responsible for introducing the matter and proposing a solution of the case and he or she will usually write the opinion of the Court. If the views of the reporting justice do not have the support of a majority of the justices, the President will ask another justice to write the Court’s opinion, and the minority justices decide who will write a separate dissenting judgement. Finally, a complete judgement will be prepared, and the justices will sign a single copy which is filed in the Book of Opinions of the Court.

For cases where members of the Cabinet are suspected of criminal behavior, the Landsdómur, which includes the five of the longest serving Supreme Court justices, sits instead of the Supreme Court.[3]


After the transfer of power from Denmark, the Court was first housed in the Old Penitentiary Building on Skólavörðustígur in Reykjavík.[4] In 1949 it moved to the former court building on Lindargata. 1993 saw a competition to design a new home for the Court, which was won by Margrét Harðardóttir and Steve Christer of Studio Granda, Reykjavík. The Icelandic Minister of Justice dug the first spade of ground for the new Courthouse of the Supreme Court of Iceland at Arnarhóll on 15 July 1994, laid the cornerstone of the building on the Court’s 75th anniversary, 16 February 1995, and handed it over to the Court for use on 5 September 1996.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Thorgeir Örlygsson elected Chief Justice of Iceland". Efta Court. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Hæstiréttur settur." Morgunblaðið (in Icelandic) (85) 17 February 1920, p. 1
  3. ^ "Islands tidligere statsminister stilles for riksrett". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Oslo, Norway. NTB. September 28, 2010. Archived from the original on October 1, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  4. ^ "Húsnæði Hæstaréttar 1920-1970." Tímarit lögfræðinga (in Icelandic) (1) 1 January 1970, p. 37

External links

2008–2011 Icelandic financial crisis

The Icelandic financial crisis was a major economic and political event in Iceland that involved the default of all three of the country's major privately owned commercial banks in late 2008, following their difficulties in refinancing their short-term debt and a run on deposits in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Relative to the size of its economy, Iceland's systemic banking collapse was the largest experienced by any country in economic history. The crisis led to a severe economic depression in 2008–2010 and significant political unrest.In the years preceding the crisis, three Icelandic banks, Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir, multiplied in size. This expansion was driven by ready access to credit in international financial markets, in particular short-term financing. As the international financial crisis unfolded in 2007–2008, investors perceived the Icelandic banks to be increasingly risky. Trust in the banks gradually faded, leading to a sharp depreciation of the Icelandic króna in 2008 and increased difficulties for the banks in rolling over their short-term debt. At the end of the second quarter of 2008, Iceland's external debt was 9.553 trillion Icelandic krónur (€50 billion), more than 7 times the GDP of Iceland in 2007. The assets of the three banks totaled 14.437 trillion krónur at the end of the second quarter 2008, equal to more than 11 times the national GDP. Due to the huge size of the Icelandic financial system in comparison with the Icelandic economy, the Central Bank of Iceland found itself unable to act as a lender of last resort during the crisis, further aggravating the mistrust in the banking system.

On 29 September 2008, it was announced that Glitnir would be nationalised. However, subsequent efforts to restore faith in the banking system failed. On 6 October, the Icelandic legislature instituted an emergency law which enabled the Financial Supervisory Authority (FME) to take control over financial institutions and made domestic deposits in the banks priority claims. In the following days, new banks were founded to take over the domestic operations of Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir. The old banks were put into receivership and liquidation, resulting in losses for their shareholders and foreign creditors. Outside Iceland, more than half a million depositors lost access to their accounts in foreign branches of Icelandic banks. This led to the 2008–2013 Icesave dispute, that ended with a EFTA Court ruling that Iceland was not obliged to repay Dutch and British depositors minimum deposit guarantees.

In an effort to stabilize the situation, the Icelandic government stated that all domestic deposits in Icelandic banks would be guaranteed, imposed strict capital controls to stabilize the value of the Icelandic króna, and secured a US$5.1bn sovereign debt package from the IMF and the Nordic countries in order to finance a budget deficit and the restoration of the banking system. The international bailout support programme led by IMF officially ended on 31 August 2011, while the capital controls which were imposed in November 2008 were lifted on 14 March 2017.The financial crisis had a serious negative impact on the Icelandic economy. The national currency fell sharply in value, foreign currency transactions were virtually suspended for weeks, and the market capitalisation of the Icelandic stock exchange fell by more than 90%. As a result of the crisis, Iceland underwent a severe economic depression; the country's gross domestic product dropped by 10% in real terms between the third quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2010. A new era with positive GDP growth started in 2011, and has helped foster a gradually declining trend for the unemployment rate. The government budget deficit has declined from 9.7% of GDP in 2009 and 2010 to 0.2% of GDP in 2014; the central government gross debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to decline to less than 60% in 2018 from a maximum of 85% in 2011.

2010 Icelandic Constitutional Assembly election

Constitutional Assembly elections were held in Iceland on 27 November 2010. The Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the results of the election on 25 January 2011 following complaints about several faults in how the election was conducted. However, it was decided on 25 February 2011 that the elected assembly members would instead be appointed to a Constitutional Council with effectively the same role. The proposed changes to the constitution were approved in a referendum in October 2012.

2010–13 Icelandic constitutional reform

An Icelandic Constitutional Council (Stjórnlagaráð) for the purpose of reviewing the Constitution of the Republic was appointed by a resolution of Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, on 24 March 2011. The Council replaced the intended function of a Constitutional Assembly (Stjórnlagaþing), since elections to that body had been ruled null and void by the Supreme Court of Iceland on 25 January 2011. The question of whether the text of the proposed constitution should form a base for a future constitution was put to a non-binding referendum, where it won the approval of 67% of voters. However, the government's term finished before the reform bill could be passed, and the next government has not (as of April 2013) acted upon it.

Bjarni Ármannsson

Bjarni Ármannsson (born 23 March 1968) is an Icelandic banker who resigned as CEO of Glitnir (formerly Íslandsbanki), a financial group based in Iceland, in May 2007.He worked at the Kaupthing securities firm in 1991 to 1997, first in Asset Custody and then as CEO from the start of 1997. Later in 1997, Ármannsson was appointed the CEO of FBA (The Icelandic Investment Bank) when four government credit funds were merged. Following privatisation, FBA merged with Íslandsbanki hf. in 2000. From 1994 to 1997, Ármannsson was the Deputy CEO and later the CEO of Kaupthing Investment Bank.

Bjarni Ármannsson has been appointed to a number of non-executive positions for various bodies. He is currently the Chairman of the Board of The Bankers´ and Securities Dealers´ Association of Iceland and a Member of the Board of the Iceland Chamber of Commerce. He also chairs the Icelandic Children's Welfare Fund and serves as Chairman of the Board of Reykjavik University, and has been Chairman of the board of the Norwegian-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce since it was established in March 2006.

Bjarni Ármannsson holds a degree in Computer Science from the University of Iceland and an MBA degree from IMD in Switzerland. He is married with four children.

Bjarni was sentenced to 6 months in prison by the District Court of Reykjavik for major tax noncompliance. His sentence was suspended and he was additionally ordered to repay nearly 36 million ISK of unpaid tax. The Supreme Court of Iceland increased his suspended sentence to 8 months.

Court of Legislature (Iceland)

The Court of Legislature (Icelandic: Lögrétta) was a legislature and high court established in Iceland in the year 930 during the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth.

Fifth Court

The Fifth Court (Icelandic: Fimmtardómur) was a supreme court established in Iceland approximately in the year 1015 during the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth. It was an institution of Althing, the nation's legislative and judicial authority. There was no executive power in the country at the time.

The jurisdiction of the court was the entire country, as opposed the contemporary Quarter Courts, whose jurisdiction extended only their relevant quarter of the country. The goal in establishing the court was probably unifying the judging of court cases throughout the whole country. The Fifth Court accepted appeals in cases already judged in one of the Quarter Court. The Fifth Court consisted of 48 men. 36 of them judged in cases, while both plaintiff and defender could bump up to 6 judges. Verdicts were decided by majority votes. This arrangement lasted throughout the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth.

Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case

The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case (Icelandic: Guðmundar- og Geirfinnsmálið) is a case concerning the disappearances of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson in 1974 in Iceland. Six people were convicted of their alleged murders on the basis of confessions extracted by the police after intense and lengthy interrogations despite the lack of bodies of the murder victims, witnesses or any forensic evidence. In later years, most Icelanders believe the six were wrongfully convicted.On 27 September 2018, 44 years after the disappearances of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur, the Supreme Court of Iceland acquitted five of the six original suspects.

Hjördís Björk Hákonardóttir

Hjördís Björk Hákonardóttir (born 28 August 1944) is an Icelandic lawyer. She served as a judge of the Supreme Court of Iceland from 1 May 2006 to 31 July 2010. She has also written articles on the law, including Right to Life: a Principle of Equality, published in English in 2015.Born in Reykjavik on 28 August 1944, Hjördís Björk Hákonardóttir matriculated from the Reykjavík University in 1964 and went on to study law at the University of Iceland, graduating in 1971. She then continued her law studies at Oxford University (1971–74) and at Rutgers University in the United States, where she earned a master's degree in 1979. In the 1990s, she also carried out research at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and in Copenhagen.

Icelandic independence movement

The Icelandic Independence movement (Icelandic: Sjálfstæðisbarátta Íslendinga) was the collective effort made by Icelanders to achieve self-determination and independence from the Kingdom of Denmark throughout the 19th and early 20th century.

Iceland received a constitution and limited home rule in 1874. A minister for Icelandic affairs was appointed to the Danish cabinet in 1904. Full independence was granted in 1918 through the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union. This was followed by the severance of all ties to Denmark with the declaration of the republic in 1944.

Icesave dispute

The Icesave dispute was a diplomatic dispute that began after the privately owned Icelandic bank Landsbanki was placed in receivership on 7 October 2008. As Landsbanki was one of three systemically important financial institutions in Iceland to go bankrupt within a few days, the Icelandic Depositors' and Investors' Guarantee Fund (Tryggingarsjóður) had no remaining funds to make good on deposit guarantees to foreign Landsbanki depositors who held savings in the Icesave branch of the bank.

When Landsbanki was placed into receivership by the Icelandic Financial Supervisory Authority (FME), 343,306 retail depositors in the UK and Netherlands that held accounts in the "Icesave" branch of Landsbanki lost a total of €6.7bn of savings. Because no immediate repayment was expected by any Icelandic institutions, the Dutch and British national deposit guarantee schemes covered repayment up to the maximum limit for the national deposit guarantees – and the Dutch and British states covered the rest.The Icelandic state refused to take on this liability on behalf of the guarantee fund. Originally this was because the state lost funding access at credit markets due to the Icelandic financial crisis, but later proposed bilateral loan guarantees for repayment were rejected by Icelandic voters.

The dispute centred on the demand by the British and Dutch states that the Icelandic state should repay the Icelandic minimum deposit guarantees (up to €20,887 per account holder), equal to £2.35bn (€2.7bn) repaid to the UK and €1.3bn repaid to the Netherlands.

The Icesave bill 1 was the first negotiated loan agreement, attempting to define the repayment terms for these two loans. It was enacted on 2 September 2009 but was not accepted by the governments of UK and Netherlands, due to a unilaterally attached term added by the Icelandic parliament which limited Iceland's repayment guarantee only to 2024, with automatic cancellation of any potential owing still existing beyond this year. Instead, UK and Netherlands then counter proposed a new version of the loan agreement, referred to as Icesave bill 2, where no time limit was included for the Icelandic state's repayment guarantee. This was at first accepted by the Icelandic parliament, but the Icelandic president refused to enact the law and referred approval to a referendum being held on 6 March 2010, where voters subsequently rejected the law.

After the rejection of Icesave bill 2, renewed negotiations started on the terms for the repayment agreement. The negotiations resulted, in December 2010, in an adjusted agreement named Icesave bill 3, with better terms for Iceland. This included the removal of a previous creditor priority issue, a lower 3% interest rate, an interest moratorium until 1 October 2009, and a possible extension of the "repayment window" up to 30 years. When the Icesave bill 3 was put to a referendum in April 2011, it was again rejected, by 59% of Icelandic voters. After analysing the election result, stakeholders decided not to attempt negotiation of a further improved Icesave bill 4, but instead to refer the case to the EFTA Court as a legal dispute.

On 28 January 2013, the EFTA Court cleared Iceland of all charges, meaning that Iceland was freed from the disputed obligation for deposit guarantees worth €4.0bn (ISK 674bn) plus accrued interest to UK and the Netherlands. This caused shock, as some legal experts had suggested the EFTA Surveillance Authority would win.The repayment claim still existed as a claim on the Landsbanki receivership, who one year earlier had been ordered by the Supreme Court of Iceland to repay confiscated deposits (including minimum deposit guarantees) as priority claims, totaling ISK 852bn (£4.46bn, €5.03bn) to the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme and ISK 282bn (€1.67bn) to De Nederlandsche Bank. By January 2016, the Landsbanki receivership had, through liquidation of assets, repaid all the priority claims.


Landsbanki (literally "national bank"), also commonly known as Landsbankinn (literally "the national bank") which is now the name of the current rebuilt bank (here called "New Landsbanki"), was one of the largest Icelandic commercial banks that failed as part of the 2008–2011 Icelandic financial crisis when its subsidiary sparked the Icesave dispute. On October 7, 2008, the Icelandic Financial Supervisory Authority took control of Landsbanki and created a new bank for all the domestic operations called Nýi Landsbanki (new Landsbanki) so that the domestic bank could continue to operate, the new bank continued to operate under the Landsbanki name in Iceland.Prior to its failure the bank was one of the largest Icelandic banks with assets of ISK 3,058 billion in December 2007 and a market capitalisation of ISK 383 billion. It been in operation since 1885 and had been instrumental in the economic development of business and industry in Iceland. From 1927 to 1961 the bank had acted as the central bank, until it was replaced by the Central Bank of Iceland, although this interest was primarily directed towards note issuance rather than monetary policy. The bank had been state owned and was privatized in stages between 1998 and 2003.

Landsbanki had positioned itself as Iceland's primary provider of general and specialised financial services to individuals, corporate entities and institutions. The bank had the country's most extensive branch network with 40 branches and sub-branches. At the end of 2006, Landsbanki provided close to 40% of corporate lending in Iceland, and for around 60% of companies listed on the OMX Iceland Stock Exchange, Landsbanki was their principal bank or one of two banks with whom they did business. The leading provider of M&A, derivatives, equity and fixed income services.

It started to expanded overseas in 2000 through a number of acquisitions and organic growth, the expansion would lead to the creation of its Icesave subsidiary in 2006 which would ultimately seal its fate.

List of Justices of the Supreme Court of Iceland

This is a list of justices of the Supreme Court of Iceland.

Miyoko Watai

Miyoko Watai (渡井 美代子, Watai Miyoko, born January 8, 1945) is a Japanese women's chess champion, and the acting chairperson of the Japan Chess Association. She is a Woman International Master. She lives in the old Kamata ward, which is now part of Ōta, Tokyo.

In 1973 she met then world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and visited him several times for the next three decades. Starting in 2000 they reportedly lived together in a de facto marriage at her home. After Bobby Fischer's detention on July 13, 2004 for trying to travel with a revoked U.S. passport, she campaigned for his release.

They were reportedly married in August 2004. According to an attorney representing a competing claim to Fischer's estate, the Supreme Court of Iceland ruled in December 2009 that Watai's claim of marriage to Fischer was invalidated because of her failure to present the original of their alleged marriage certificate. However, on March 3, 2011, a district court in Iceland ruled that Miyoko Watai, as Fischer's widow and heir, was entitled to inherit his estate.

National Court (Iceland)

The National Court (Icelandic: Landsdómur) is a special high court in Iceland established in 1905 to handle cases where members of the Cabinet are suspected of criminal behavior.

National High Court

The National High Court (Icelandic: Landsyfirréttur í Reykjavík, Danish: Landsoverretten i Reykjavik) was a high court in Iceland established in 1800. The court was established due to dissatisfaction with the High Court which had been the high court of the country from 1563. In 1920, the Supreme Court of Iceland was established replacing the National High Court.

Páll Hreinsson

Páll Hreinsson (born 20 February 1963) is the current President of the EFTA Court in Luxembourg. He is a former Justice at the Supreme Court of Iceland and professor at the University of Iceland.

Reykjavík City Center

Reykjavík City Center (Icelandic: Miðborg, Miðbær, and sometimes Austurbær) is a sub-municipal administrational district that covers much of the central part Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. The district includes six neighbourhoods: Kvos, Grjótaþorp, Skólavörðuholt, Þingholt, Skuggahverfi and Vatnsmýri.

Studio Granda

Studio Granda is a practice of architects based in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was founded in 1987 by partners Margrét Harðardóttir (1959, Reykjavík, Iceland) and Steve Christer (1960, Blackfyne, UK). They studied at the Architectural Association in London.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.