Reopening of criminal cases in Iceland
Av docenterna THORDIS INGADOTTIR och KRISTÍN HARALDSDÓTTIR
The institutional structure and conditions for reopening of court cases in Iceland have in recent years raised issues appertaining to fundamental constitutional questions on the functions and role of the judiciary and its independence. As a response to criticism of the system, changes have been made in the last few years concerning both the structure and conditions for reopening cases. In 2013, the authority to decide on applications for reopening of cases was transferred from the Supreme Court to an administrative Committee on Reopening Cases and in 2020 the Committee was replaced by a special Court on Reopening Cases. While the institutional structure has in recent years repeatedly undergone fundamental reforms, the conditions for reopening of cases have been subject to minor changes, all with the aim of enhancing such a possibility.
The following section provides an overview of the historical background of the system for reopening of cases in Iceland, the development of the institutional structure the past decade and the drivers for the changes made. Next, the conditions for reopening of cases are explained and the practice analyzed. At the time of the writing, the newly established Court on Reopening of Cases had not commenced. Hence, case analysis is limited to Committee decisions and their judicial review. In the last section, the institutional and substantive changes are assessed in light of their objectives.
2 Historical background and development of the institutional structure
2.1 Supreme Court
For the second half of the 20th Century decisions to reopen criminal cases were made by the Supreme Court of Iceland. The Supreme Court was founded under Law No 22/1919, and first commenced in February 1920. Pursuant to Article 30 of the Law, the Minister of Justice had the power to decide, based on a proposal put forward by the Supreme Court, whether to reopen cases decided by the Court. Thus at least formally, the power to reopen cases was in the hands of the executive. This system was amended in three steps in which the power to reopen both civil and criminal cases was transferred to the