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The Courts & Justice System

Violation of the Law and Punishment

The punishment of criminal offenders is considered a just and an effective means to prevent criminal offenses in society. According to the law, the severity of the punishment should reflect the seriousness of the violation.

Victims of criminal offences

If individuals believe they or anyone else has been the victim of a criminal offence, they should report the matter to the police as soon as possible, either at the nearest police station or by phone.

The police will follow certain requirements to instruct victims in their rights and to explain how the matter will be handled. Once a matter is reported, a complicated and sometimes lengthy process begins.

If an individual requires legal assistance to protect his or her rights, he or she can turn to the Icelandic Bar Association.

Victims have the right to compensation for damage, bodily injury and other sorts of harm.

Violation of the law

The judicial system comprises, on the one hand, the police and the prosecuting authorities, and the court system, on the other hand.

The Prosecutor General and police commissioners, including the National Commissioner of Police, are the prosecuting authorities in Iceland.

The investigation of criminal cases is conducted by the police. If it becomes clear during an investigation that a punishable offence has been committed, the alleged offender is served with an indictment, if the prosecutor finds that the case in question is sufficiently strong or likely to lead to a conviction.

If there is reason to suspect that somebody has violated the law, the police may demand use of detention, which is a temporary deprivation of liberty. But there are strict legal conditions for the use of detention.

The state as the prosecuting power/prosecutor begins criminal proceedings against the indicted person/the accused. The indicted person is entitled at any time to defend him/herself in a criminal case. Civil cases are legal actions that individuals, corporations or organisations bring against other individuals or legal entities.

The Director of Public Prosecutions maintains the State Penal Registry, where certain types of information are registered concerning the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

There are two judicial instances. The courts of first instance are the district courts, of which there are eight, and the court of the second and final instance is the Supreme Court.

If there is doubt concerning the legal competence of the accused because of mental and/or physical illness, the condition of the individual will be examined by specialists.

Children and adolescents below the age of 15 do not receive punishment for violations. The infraction is handled as a child-welfare issue.

During proceedings under the first instance, certain court decisions may be referred to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

When judgment has been passed in the district court, appeal may be made to the Supreme Court for review.

Fines, judgments and other forms of recourse

Mediation entails that the offender and the victim reach a settlement following a violation without the case entering the court system.

If a young person between the ages of 15 and 21 confesses to an offence, a conditioned suspension of indictment is a procedure that can be used.

According to the Constitution of the Republic, the President of Iceland has the prerogative to pardon people and to announce a general amnesty.

Persons who are pardoned, or who receive suspended sentences or a suspension of indictment will be placed under the supervision of the State Director of Prisons or whoever the State Director commissions for this purpose for a specific period of time.

The State Directory of Prisons summons the sentenced person to serve the sentence and administers the execution of the sentences.

There are five state prisons in Iceland and several kinds of punishment are applied.

Where an offender is declared as not being legally competent because of mental illness, but it is nevertheless considered necessary that the offender be kept away from society, the offender will be placed in the Sogn Forensic Psychiatric Unit.

Adolescents between the ages 15 and 18 usually serve their sentences at appropriate institutions, in consultation with the Government Agency for Child Protection.

Those who receive unsuspended custodial sentences may apply for parole when they have served a specific portion of the sentence.

Laws and regulations