Questions and answers
The justice system
Criminal cases are brought by the prosecutorial authority (or its holders) against individuals or legal persons (companies). Criminal cases decide whether an indictee is guilty of a punishable offence and, if found guilty, determine an appropriate punishment. Other judicial matters are deemed to be civil actions. They primarily involve the resolution of disputes between two or more parties. The parties to civil actions can be individuals or legal persons (companies). In addition, the State and its institutions can also be parties to a civil action.
Furthermore, the Director of Public Prosecutions is the highest holder of prosecutorial authority, and a district prosecutor and chiefs of police (9 in total), are subject to the Director of Public Prosecutions' monitoring and guidance in work as prosecutors and holders of prosecutorial authority.
- This varies, depending on the size and extent of the case. It can take anywhere from several weeks or months up to a year or longer in some instances.
Yes, conducting a trial always involves costs, but if individuals have a right to free legal aid, they will not have to bear the cost themselves. Rather, the cost is paid, in whole or in part, from the State Treasury.
The cost of each case depends on its size and extent. The party filing the case must pay a separate filing fee. In addition, the gathering of evidence can entail costs, and most parties choose to use the services of lawyers, who work according to their own fee schedules.
Furthermore, the court usually orders the party losing the case on the merits to pay the counterparty's legal costs.
»On applying for free legal aid (in icelandic)
»The courts’ fee schedules
A court-appointed legal adviser is an attorney who protects the rights of a victim.
If a sexual offence is involved, the victim has a right, upon request, to a court-appointed legal adviser.
In cases involving violent offences, offences against human freedom, or sexual offences against children, the court appoints a legal adviser to protect the victims' rights. If a victim has suffered substantial physical or emotional damage because of the offence, police can decide that the victim shall have a court-appointed legal adviser. The victim of a sexual offence, upon request, will be provided with a court-appointed legal adviser. A court-appointed legal adviser's role is to protect the victim's interests and assist the victim during the case, including filing a claim for damages, if relevant. During investigation, a court-appointed legal adviser may always be present when the victim's report is taken.
A court-appointed legal adviser also has the right to be present during all court sessions in the case and to address the court to a certain degree. The court appointed legal adviser's remuneration is paid from the State Treasury. Obtaining a court-appointed legal adviser requires fulfilment of certain conditions. See Art. 41 of the Law on Criminal Procedure no. 88/2008.
For further information:
The language of the court is Icelandic. However, if a person who cannot adequately speak Icelandic testifies in court, the party seeing to the testimony shall call in a certified court interpreter.
The case will be determined/ruled on in accordance with the documents before the court.
If you are the indictee in a criminal case, the court may pass judgement in the case, upon fulfilment of certain conditions, if you do not appear in court after being legally served with the indictment. Otherwise, the judge sets another hearing, and the prosecutor shall order police to bring you into court unless you have a known lawful excuse for absence. In that case, the police shall order a new hearing and, depending on the circumstances, compel you to appear in court.
This entirely depends on the nature and scope of each case. However, trying the case can take from several weeks up to several years.
Civil action: The main rule is that, in the district court, you must appeal a case to Landsréttur Appeal Court within four weeks of its pronouncement. To appeal a district court case, you must submit a written appeal to the office of Landsréttur Appeal Court along with a transcript of the judgement. Landsréttur Appeal Court then publishes the written appeal if its form is correct. After four to eight weeks have passed since the district court’s pronouncement, an application must be made for a right of appeal to Landsréttur Appeal Court. In addition, a written application must be sent to Landsréttur Appeal Court along with the written appeal and a transcript of the district court’s judgement. Landsréttur Appeal Court can accept such an application if the case’s outcome has substantial public value or regards important interests of the party seeking the right of appeal, or if it cannot be ruled out, considering available documents, that the judgement may noticeably change. However, this always depends on the delay of an appeal being justifiable.
If a case involves a financial claim, a condition for appeal is that its amount totals ISK 1,000,000. If a case involves another kind of claim, Landsréttur Appeal Court decides whether the interests correspond to the appeal amount. If a demand does not come up to the appeal amount, or Landsréttur Appeal Court deems that the interests are insufficient to appeal, the party can apply for a right of appeal, and the court can grant such an application, provided that one of the above conditions is fulfilled.
Criminal case: A conviction can only be appealed if the accused has been sentenced to imprisonment or a fine or, in a civil action, the defendant has been fined or subjected to confiscation of assets reaching the appeal amount. Despite this, the party can apply for a right of appeal that may be granted if the outcome of the case has substantial public value or involves important interests, or if it cannot be ruled out, considering available documents, that the judgement may noticeably change.
The main rule is that the indictee must declare an appeal to the district court by letter that the Director of Public Prosecutions must receive within four weeks of the publication of the judgement, if publication was necessary, but, otherwise, within four weeks of its pronouncement. The notice must detail the reason for the appeal, what the indictee's demands are, who the indictee wants appointed as the appeal attorney, or whether he wants to conduct his own appeal. After a notice has been received from the indictee within the above period, the district court judgement is deemed appealed by him
The next three months after the end of the appeal period, an application to Landsréttur Appeal Court is required for a right of appeal. In addition, a notice must be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions along with a written application for the right of appeal, explaining why the indictee thinks the conditions for the appeal are fulfilled. Landsréttur Appeal Court can agree such an application if one of the above conditions is fulfilled.
Appealing cases to the Supreme Court of Iceland is only possible after fulfilling stringent conditions.
Civil action: You must apply to the Supreme Court of Iceland for a permit to directly appeal a district court’s judgement. Such a permit shall not be granted unless a rapid final decision from the Supreme Court of Iceland is needed, and the case’s conclusion can set a precedent, have general significance for applying rules of law or otherwise be of substantial social significance. Such a permit shall also not be granted if a party to the case deems it necessary to call witnesses in the case, or there is still a dispute on the evidentiary value of oral testimony in the district court. There must also be a request to appeal a judgement of Landsréttur Appeal Court to the Supreme Court of Iceland. The Supreme Court of Iceland decides whether to grant an application for a right of appeal and, in doing so, shall consider whether the case’s outcome will have substantial public value or regard particularly important interests of the party seeking the right of appeal. In addition, the Supreme Court of Iceland can grant such a permit if there is reason to suppose that the conduct of the case before the district court or Landsréttur Appeal Court was seriously deficient, or the form or substance of the judgement of Landsréttur Appeal Court was clearly wrong.
Criminal case: There must be a request for a permit from the Supreme Court of Iceland to appeal a judgement of Landsréttur Appeal Court in a criminal case to the Supreme Court of Iceland. The Supreme Court of Iceland decides whether to grant a request for a right of appeal. Such a permit shall only be granted if an appeal involves aspects of substantial general significance, or it is very important for other reasons to get the Supreme Court of Iceland to resolve it. The Supreme Court of Iceland can also grant such a permit if there is reason to suppose that the conduct of the case before the district court or Landsréttur Appeal Court was seriously deficient, or the form or substance of the judgement of Landsréttur Appeal Court was clearly wrong. If an indictee has been acquitted in district court of an indictment but convicted in Landsréttur Appeal Court, the indictee's request to appeal shall be granted unless the Supreme Court of Iceland deems it clear that an appeal will not change Landsréttur Appeal Court's judgement.
Civil action: If a judgement has been reached or a summons endorsed, and you did not make an appearance, or your appearance was cancelled, you can request that your case be reopened within three months from when the case ended in district court, provided that the judge receives the request within a month from when you became aware of the case's outcome. If three months have passed since the case ended in district court, but less than a year since then, upon fulfilling certain conditions, you can ask for reopening of an ex parte proceeding if the judge receives the request within a month of when you became aware of the case's outcome. Before a request for reopening is addressed, you will have to post security that the judge accepts as valid for the legal costs imposed on you in the judgement or endorsed summons, unless you prove that you have already paid the legal costs.
You direct a request for reopening a case to the court that handed down the judgement or endorsed the summons. The request shall clearly state the demanded changes to the previous resolution and the facts of the case, legal authorities and evidentiary documents underlying the request, as well as when and how you became aware of the case's outcome. Documents shall accompany a request.
Criminal case - reopening of an ex parte proceeding: If you have not appeared at the filing of a case, and you have therefore not concluded the case in accordance with Art. 161 of Law no. 88/2008 on Criminal Procedure, within four weeks from when the judgement was published to you, or the judgement was pronounced (and publication was not required), you can demand that the case be reopened before the district court, provided that your request for reopening is received before the deadline. A written request for reopening shall be directed to the court ruling on the ex parte proceeding. The request shall clearly state what the matter regards, what changes to the outcome of the previous case you demand, and on what evidentiary documents, arguments, and rules of law the demand is based.
It is rather common that indictees in criminal cases are ordered to pay a monetary fine.
The District Commissioner of North-west Iceland is responsible for collecting fines and litigation costs. You can call 458-2500 for information. There is also some practical information on payment of fines on the District Commissioner's homepage:
There you can find, for example, information on what remedies are employed for collecting fines, how to apply for splitting of a payment, and what conditions must be fulfilled for people to serve a sentence of alternative punishment or perform community services instead of paying a fine.
- Police see to publishing judgements, but you can also contact the court.
You may then expect your absence to be understood as a confession. The case is then decided in accordance with existing documents.
If the indictee does not appear and has not formally declared his absence, but he has previously been served with an indictment, and the violation apparently does not carry a penalty of more than six months' imprisonment, seizure of assets and deprivation of rights, and the judge deems the submitted documents sufficient for conviction, the Law on Criminal Procedure authorises a substantive judgement in the case despite the indictee's failure to appear. Par. 1 (a) of Art. 161 of Law no. 88/2008 on Criminal Procedure stipulates this authority. A court may also decide a case if an indictee has appeared in court during the case’s investigation and unambiguously admitted being guilty of the crime with which he is charged, and the judge deems there to be no reason to doubt the truth of the confession, provided that the judgement carries punishment no heavier than a year's imprisonment.
If the indictee has not appeared in court for the reasons described above, and the case has been decided in his absence, within four weeks from when the judgement was published to him, or judgement was pronounced if publication was not required, he can demand that the case be reopened in district court, provided that his request for reopening is received within this period. If the period has expired, the case will not be reopened, except by a decision of the Rehearing Commission, in accordance with the Act on the Judiciary, cf. Chapter XXXIV.
An indictee's conduct and behaviour when admitting guilt can result in lowering of punishment, and courts, when deciding punishment, commonly refer to considering an indictee's confession.
There are also provisions in law about the duty to consider whether an indictee provided assistance or information that shed substantial and significant light on his offence, others' involvement in the crime or other offences.
However, it cannot be assumed that an indictee's unambiguous confession always entails milder punishment. Rather, confession is one of the aspects viewed in reaching an overall decision on penalties in criminal cases.
Parties sentenced for up to 12 months' imprisonment without parole have an option to apply for serving a sentence with unpaid community service if they fulfil all the conditions for this. In certain instances, another possibility is to apply for serving substitute punishment with community service. The shortest possible sentence to serve for community service is 40 hours, and the longest is 480 hours.
Most judgements in criminal cases are published on the Internet. However, there are exceptions.
When someone is ordered to pay a fine that is lower than the appeal amount (i.e., lower than ISK 1 million in 2018), the judgement is not published on the homepage of the courts. Neither are decisions on fines and substitute punishment (referred to as penalisation) published.
In judgements in criminal cases, the anonymity of those mentioned there as well as witnesses' names shall be preserved. Generally, anonymity does not prevail regarding the indictee if he is found guilty in the case. However, there are exceptions to this rule. A publication of the indictee's name can be deemed contrary to the victim's interests, or if the indictee was not 18 years old at the time of the offence for which he was indicted. Publication of a name shall be lifted in accordance with a specific request, where one year has already passed since publication of the judgement.
Forced auction and bankruptcy
If a debtor cannot pay off his loans when they fall due, and it is not likely he will be able to do so soon, he can demand that his estate be taken to bankruptcy. A demand for bankruptcy shall be in writing, and it shall clearly state:
1. That the debtor demands that his estate be taken to bankruptcy.
2. The debtor's full name and National ID.
3. The debtor's domicile and place of residence if different from his domicile.
4. Does the debtor engage in business operations? If the answer is yes, the following must be stated:
- a. A short description of the operations involved.
- b. How the operations go on.
- c. Whether they involve a firm with a separate name and National ID.
5. A concise and clear description of the facts of the case and the debtor's explanation, i.e., how the debtor's finances have reached the state that he deems it correct to demand bankruptcy of his estate.
6. The demand must state that it builds on Art. 64 of Act no. 21/1991.
7. Itemised information on the debtor's assets and liabilities This information must state how big a proportion of the debtor's liabilities is due/in arrears.
8. Monthly income and expenditures and how much is left over each month to pay off debts.
Documents proving that the debtor cannot pay off his debts on time must accompany the demand for bankruptcy. Examples of such documents include the debtor's wage slips, payment slips, tax returns along with a summary of cash payments for the months since the last submitted tax return, and a transcript from the district commissioner's register, showing that an unsuccessful attachment has been made against the debtor. If a company's Board of Directors requests bankruptcy, it must, in addition, submit the company's articles of association, its last annual financial report and a certificate from the Register of Companies. A judge may always demand further documents from the debtor if he deems them necessary.
The demand for bankruptcy shall be sent to the district court in the district (the court's jurisdiction) where the debtor has its registered domicile and/or residence, if different from the domicile. The demand, along with accompanying documents, shall be in duplicate, and when it is delivered to the district court, the fee must be paid into the State Treasury. See the schedule of fees here.
The debtor must also present security for the estate’s distribution, in the amount of ISK 250,000, before his case will be heard. If a company requests bankruptcy, the estate distribution security is ISK 500,000. In other bankruptcy cases, when others request bankruptcy distribution of the debtor's estate, the estate distribution security is generally ISK 350,000. However, a judge can demand that higher security be posted if it is clear at the start of the case that its scope will be extensive.
The distribution security is to pay the costs of processing the demand.
The answer is yes. You may direct complaints on the trustee in bankruptcy's work to the court that appointed him.
»Art. 76 of the Act on Bankruptcy no. 21/1991 (In Icelandic)
»Art. 47 of the Act on Bankruptcy no. 20/1991
Up to a month for companies and individuals with operations, with the approval of the party making the claim. Up to three months for an individual that has not had operations on his own National ID, with the approval of the party making the claim.
To obtain the postponement, the party must appear at the court hearing called. If the debtor thinks the claim is not lawful, he must protest the demand at its filing, i.e., at the first court hearing. This establishes a dispute that will get a separate hearing. The debtor then usually gets two weeks to submit his explanation, and the case will then be assigned to a judge regarding that matter.
If a debtor requests the division of his estate, the judge begins by reviewing his request and the accompanying documents. The judge can request further documents if he deems that the existing documents do not adequately explain the case. On the other hand, if he deems that the conditions for bankruptcy are fulfilled, the debtor is called into court where his request is taken for judgement. The debtor must appear at that session or his attorney on his behalf. Others cannot appear to represent the debtor. When a judgement on bankruptcy is pronounced, a trustee in bankruptcy is appointed for the bankruptcy estate. The trustee in bankruptcy gets a copy of the judgement and contacts the debtor. The trustee in bankruptcy takes over the estate's rights and duties and calls the debtor to a meeting to review the estate's affairs.
If another party (a bankruptcy petitioner to whom a party is in arrears) takes the estate of the debtor (a company or an individual) to judgement, the debtor (the spokesperson of the company or individual) is summoned to appear at a court session when his matter is heard. The same applies in these matters as in cases when a debtor requests bankruptcy. The parties are called to a hearing and appear themselves or an attorney on their behalf. During a court hearing on bankruptcy, it is possible to request a postponement to settle the claim or protest it if the debtor deems it unjust. If the debtor does not appear, or if a postponement is not agreed, the claim is taken for judgement. Usually, a judgement is then pronounced two weeks later, and a trustee in bankruptcy is appointed for the estate and contacts the debtor.
Yes, but not about the judgement that he hands down in your case. If you are displeased with the judgement, you then appeal it to a higher court.
However, anyone thinking that a judge's work has wronged him may direct a complaint to the Committee on Judges’ Work.
For further information, see the homepage: Committee on Judges’ Work.
A certificate of authority to manage an estate certifies that the relevant party can manage his estate, i.e., has not been declared bankrupt. A party must produce a certificate of authority to manage an estate when applying for many kinds of permits, such as when founding a company or taking seats on companies’ boards of directors.
One must apply for a certificate of authority to manage an estate at the district court in the applicant’s domicile.
»Certificate of authority to manage an estate – homepages of the courts