Constitution of Iceland – my version

Last updated: 15 March 2021

The purpose of this work is to lay out a template for a modern constitution, inspired by the proposal of the Icelandic Constitutional Council of 2011.

1. Foundations

1. Source of power

1. Iceland is a semi-direct democracy with legislative supremacy.

2. Separation of power

2. The legislative branch is led by the National Assembly.

3. The executive branch is led by the Ministerial Council.

4. The judicial branch is led by the Supreme Court.

3. Territory

5. The territory of Iceland is one and indivisible. The limits of Icelandic territorial sea, airspace, economic zone shall be determined by law.

4. Citizenship

6. The right to Icelandic citizenship is attained by those who have a parent who is a citizen of Iceland.

7. Revocation of citizenship shall only occur when citizenship has been obtained fraudulently.

8. An Icelandic citizen shall not be prevented from entering the country nor expelled from the country.

2. Human rights

1. Cultural treasures

9. Valuable national treasures that belong to Iceland's cultural heritage, such as objects of national value and ancient manuscripts, may neither be destroyed nor delivered for permanent possession nor use, be sold nor pledged.

2. Deprivation of freedom

10. No one may be deprived of freedom except as authorised by law.

11. Anyone who has been deprived of freedom has without delay the right to be apprised of the reason.

12. Anyone who has been arrested for suspicion of having committed a punishable act shall without exception be brought before a judge. If the person is not released forthwith the judge shall, before 24 hours have passed, render a reasoned verdict whether the person shall be remanded into custody. Custody may only be applied for an offense punishable by a prison sentence. The right to appeal a remand into custody to a higher court shall be ensured by law. No one shall be remanded into custody longer than necessary.

13. Anyone who for other reasons than a punishable offence is deprived of freedom has the right to have a court rule on its legality as soon as possible. Should a deprivation of freedom prove illegal the person shall be set free and fairly compensated.

3. Due process of law

14. All shall have the right to a resolution of their rights and duties or to be subject to the due process of law in cases where they are prosecuted for a punishable offense within a reasonable period before an independent and impartial court. Court sessions shall be open unless the judge rules otherwise in accordance with law in order to guard public safety, the security of the state or the interests of the parties to the case and witnesses.

15. Anyone who is accused of a punishable offense shall be viewed as innocent until proven guilty.

4. Education

16. All shall by law have the right to a general education according to their ability.

17. All subject to compulsory education shall be offered such education without charge.

18. Education shall be adjusted to the general ability of each individual and be in line with critical awareness of human rights, democratic rights and duties.

5. Equal rights

19. All are equal under the law and shall enjoy human rights without discrimination, such as due to gender, age, genetic character, place of residence, economic status, disability, sexual orientation, race, colour, opinions, political affiliation, religion, language, origin, ancestry and position in other respects.

6. Freedom of association

20. All shall be assured of the right to establish associations for a lawful purpose, including political parties and trade unions, without having to apply for a licence.

21. No one may be obligated to be a member of an association. Such obligation may be imposed by law if it proves necessary for an association to perform its lawful role due to the public interest or the rights of others.

7. Freedom of culture and academia

22. The freedom of science, academia and art shall be ensured by law.

8. Freedom of enterprise

23. All shall be free to pursue the employment they choose. This freedom may be limited by law in the public interest.

24. Adequate work conditions shall be stipulated by law, such as periods of rest, vacation and hours of leisure. All shall be accorded the right to fair pay and other work-related rights.

9. Freedom of opinion and expression

25. All are free to have their opinions and convictions and shall have the right to express their thoughts.

26. Censorship and other comparable impediments to the freedom of opinion must never be enacted into law. Limits on the expression of opinion may, however, be stipulated by law to protect children, security, health, the rights or reputation of others, as necessary in a democratic society.

27. The public authorities shall guarantee the conditions for an open and informed discourse. The access to the Internet and information technology shall not be limited unless by a court verdict and subject to the same conditions as apply to the limits of the expression of opinion.

28. All persons shall be responsible for the expression of their opinions before a court.

10. Freedom of religion

29. All shall be assured of the right to religion and a view of life, including the right to change their religion or personal convictions and the right to remain outside religious organisations.

30. All shall be free to pursue their religion, individually or in association with others, publicly or privately.

31. The freedom to pursue religion or personal convictions shall only be limited by law as necessary in a democratic society.

11. Freedom of the media

32. The freedom of the media, their editorial independence and transparency of ownership shall be ensured by law.

33. The protection of journalists, sources and informants shall be ensured by law. Source confidentiality may not be abrogated without the consent of the informant except in criminal case proceedings and by a court verdict.

12. Health services

34. All shall have the right to mental and physical health to the highest standard possible.

35. All shall by law have the right to an accessible, appropriate and adequate health service.

13. Human dignity

36. All shall be guaranteed a right to life with dignity. Human diversity shall be respected in every way.

14. Natural resources

37. Iceland's natural resources shall be the joint and perpetual property of the nation. No one can acquire the natural resources nor rights connected thereto, as property or for permanent use and they may not be sold nor pledged.

38. Publicly owned natural resources include resources such as marine stocks, other resources of the ocean and its bottom within Iceland's economic zone and the sources of water and water-harnessing rights, the rights to geothermal energy and mining. The public ownership of resources below a certain depth under the earth's surface may be determined by law.

39. In the use of natural resources, sustainable development and public interest shall be used for guidance.

40. The public authorities, along with those using the natural resources, shall be responsible for their protection. The public authorities may, on the basis of law, issue permits for the use of natural resources or other limited public goods, against full payment and for a modest period of time in each instance. Such permits shall be issued on an equal-opportunity basis and it shall never lead to a right of ownership nor irrevocable control of the natural resources.

15. Nature and environment

41. All shall by law be accorded the right to a healthy environment, fresh water, unpolluted air and unspoiled nature. This means that the diversity of life and land must be maintained and nature's objects of value, uninhabited areas, vegetation and soil shall enjoy protection. Earlier damages shall be repaired as possible.

42. The use of natural resources shall be such that their depletion will be minimised in the long term and that the right of nature and coming generations be respected.

43. The right of the public to travel in the country for lawful purposes with respect for nature and the environment shall be ensured by law.

16. Prohibition of compulsory military service

44. A compulsory military service may never be introduced into law.

17. Prohibition of inhumane treatment

45. The death penalty may never be introduced into law.

46. No one may be tortured nor be otherwise subjected to inhumane nor demeaning treatment nor punishment.

47. No one may be subjected to compulsory labour.

18. Prohibition of retroactive punishment

48. No one shall be subjected to punishment unless having been found guilty of a punishable offense according to law at the time it took place. The punishment may not be more onerous than then allowed by law.

19. Protection of animals

49. The protection of animals against maltreatment as well as animal species in danger of extinction shall be ensured by law.

20. Protection of rights

50. The public authorities must at all times protect the citizens against human rights violations, whether committed by the holders of state power or by others.

21. Right of assembly

51. All shall be assured of the right to assemble without special permission, such as in meetings or to protest. This right shall not be abridged except by law and necessity in a democratic society.

22. Right to information

52. All persons shall be free to collect and disseminate information.

53. Public administration shall be transparent and shall preserve documentation, such as minutes of meetings, and shall register and document issues, their origin, record and final resolution. Such documentation may not be deleted unless according to law.

54. Information and documents held by public authorities shall be available without exception and the access of the public to all documents collected or paid for by public authorities shall be assured by law. A list of all cases and documents held by public authorities, their origin and content shall be open to all.

55. The collection, dissemination and delivery of documents, their preservation and publication may only be abridged by law for a democratic purpose, such as for the protection of personal privacy, the inviolacy of private life, the security of the state or the lawful activity of supervisory agencies. Limits of access to working documents may be enacted, provided that such limits are not more extensive than necessary in order to protect the normal working conditions of public authorities.

56. Information on the reasons and the time limits for secrecy shall be available for all documents under lawful secrecy.

23. Right to life

57. All shall inherit the right to life at birth.

24. Right to privacy

58. The inviolacy of private life, home and family shall be guaranteed.

59. A person's body may not be searched nor their residence nor personal effects except with a court order or special authorisation by law. The same applies to a search of documents, postal transmissions, telephone calls or other communications as well as any other comparable curtailment of privacy.

60. The first paragraph notwithstanding, limits may be placed on the inviolacy of private life, home or family if urgently necessary due to the rights of others.

25. Right to property

61. The right to property is inviolate. No person shall be compelled to surrender property unless required by the public interest. In such a case, an act of law and full compensation shall be required.

62. The right to property is subject to duties as well as limitations in accordance with law.

26. Right to residence and travel

63. All shall be free to choose their residence and be free to travel, subject to the limits of the law.

64. No one may be prevented from leaving the country except by a court verdict. A person's departure from the country may be halted with a lawful arrest.

65. The law shall set the right of refugees and asylum seekers to a just and speedy deliberation.

27. Right to security

66. All shall have the right to the security of their person and protection against any kind of violence in both private and public life.

28. Rights of children

67. All children shall be assured by law of the protection and care that their welfare demands.

68. The best interest of the child shall always have priority in decisions regarding their affairs.

69. A child shall be guaranteed the right to express its opinions in all instances concerning it and due recognition shall be accorded to the child's opinions in concert with its age and maturity.

29. Social rights

70. All shall be assured of the right to an adequate standard of living and social security.

71. All in such need shall be guaranteed a right by law to public social security and public assistance, such as due to unemployment, childbirth, old age, poverty, disability, illness, permanent impairment or similar circumstances.

3. Legislature

1. Role

72. The National Assembly is vested with the legislative power. The National Assembly determines policies in matters of the state such as its budget, foreign affairs and defence in addition to overseeing the executive branch and the judicial branch.

1. Inviolacy

73. The National Assembly is inviolate. No one may disturb its peace nor freedom.

74. Members may not be remanded into custody nor have a criminal case brought against them without the consent of the National Assembly, unless caught in the act of committing a crime.

75. Members shall not be held accountable outside the National Assembly for their words in the National Assembly unless the National Assembly so permits.

76. Members may excuse themselves from inviolacy.

2. Independence

77. Members are exclusively bound by their convictions and not by instructions from others.

3. Conflicts of interest

78. Members may not participate in the deliberations of matters before the National Assembly that concern them substantially or those closely connected to them.

79. The qualification of members of the National Assembly shall be laid down by law. The disqualification of members shall not have an effect on the validity of laws passed.

80. Members are not permitted to perform other paid tasks while in office. The same applies to tasks for public and private entities even if unpaid.

81. The duty of members to provide information on their financial interests shall be laid down by law.

2. Organisation

82. The National Assembly consists of 100 members, elected by the citizens.

1. Presidium

83. The National Assembly elects its ten-member Presidium following an election to the National Assembly.

84. The Presidium plans the agenda of the meetings of the National Assembly, oversees international cooperation, discusses the budget of the National Assembly and sets general rules regarding the operation of the National Assembly and its administration.

85. The Presidium elects its chair person from its ranks and the remaining members serve as vice-chair persons.

86. The chair person manages the work of the National Assembly. They are responsible for the operation of the National Assembly and hold supreme power over its governance.

2. Meetings

87. The meetings of the National Assembly shall be open to the public.

3. Committees

88. The National Assembly elects permanent committees to deliberate on legislative issues. The work of committees shall be laid down by law.

89. Committees may decide that its meetings be open to the public.

3. Procedures

90. The procedures of the National Assembly shall be laid down by law.

1. Quorum

91. The National Assembly can only resolve on an issue if more than half of members are present in a meeting and participates in a vote.

2. Issues

92. Members have the right to introduce bills, proposals for resolutions and other issues before the National Assembly.

3. Bills

93. Bills introduced by members are referred for deliberation to the National Assembly committees before being debated by the National Assembly. The same applies to the issues introduced by voters.

94. An evaluation of the impact of passing a law shall accompany bills pursuant to further provisions of law.

95. Bills may not be approved until after at least two readings in the National Assembly.

4. Resolutions

96. Resolutions may not be passed until after two readings by the National Assembly.

97. The handling of issues before the National Assembly shall in all other respects be laid down by law.

5. Laws

98. Laws, government decrees and international agreements that the state has ratified shall be published. Laws and government decrees may never be applied in an encumbering manner until after their publication. The manner of publication and entry into effect shall be in accordance with law.

6. Investigations

99. The National Assembly can appoint committees to investigate important issues of concern to the public.

100. Further rules on the role, powers of investigation and the appointment of committees of investigation shall be laid down by law.

4. Elections

101. National Assembly shall have its members elected by secret ballot.

102. The period of office is four years.

103. Elections shall be held in June every two years to allocate half the seats.

104. Ballots of voters shall have equal weight.

105. Associations of candidates propose slates.

106. Associations shall be allocated seats in full proportion to the number of votes received.

1. Eligibility of candidates

107. Every citizen with the right to vote and an unblemished reputation is eligible to be a candidate for elections to the National Assembly.

108. Judges of the Supreme Court are not eligible.

109. Should a member of the National Assembly lose their right to candidacy they lose the right granted by the election. An alternate shall then take their seat in the National Assembly.

2. Right to vote

110. All citizens 18 years or older at election time shall have the right to vote.

111. Deprivation of freedom shall not negate the right to vote.

3. Validity of elections

112. The Supreme Court rules on the eligibility of candidates and the validity of elections as conducted by the Ministerial Council.

4. Financial contributions

113. Rules governing the activity of political associations shall be laid down by law, as well as the finances of candidates for the purpose of keeping costs moderate, ensuring transparency and limiting advertising in an election campaign.

114. Information on contributions in excess of a certain minimum amount shall be published instantly according to further decrees by law.

115. Only natural persons may contribute to candidates and associations of candidates.

5. Referendums

116. Ten per cent of voters may demand a national referendum on laws passed by the National Assembly. The demand shall be presented within three months from the passage of the law. The law is void if voters reject it, otherwise it retains its validity. The National Assembly may void the law before the referendum takes place.

117. The referendum shall take place within a year from the time the demand of voters was presented.

1. Voter initiatives

118. Two per cent of voters may present an issue to the National Assembly. Ten per cent of voters may present a bill to the National Assembly. The National Assembly may present a counter-proposal in the form of another bill. If the bill of the voters has not been withdrawn it shall be presented to a referendum as well as the bill of the National Assembly if one appears. The National Assembly may decide that the referendum shall be binding.

119. Votes on the bills proposed by voters shall take place within two years from the time the issues were presented to the National Assembly.

2. Process

120. The implementation of referendums and voter initiatives shall be laid down by law, such as the form and representation of the demand, the length of time for the collection of signatures and their arrangement, how much may be spent on publicising, how the issue may be withdrawn after learning of the response of the National Assembly and how such a vote may be arranged.

4. Executive

1. Role

121. The Ministerial Council is vested with the executive power. The Ministerial Council implements the policies of the National Assembly and oversees public institutions.

2. Organisation

122. Members are appointed by the National Assembly.

123. One member shall be designated as the Premier.

124. The Premier manages the meetings of the Ministerial Council and coordinates cooperation between members.

3. Ministries

125. For every permanent committee of the National Assembly there shall be a ministry headed by a member of the Ministerial Council.

126. Members are responsible for the issues before their ministries and the governance in their domain.

4. Reporting

127. Members are obligated to provide the National Assembly or its committees with all information, documents and reports on issues under their authority, unless classified as secret by law.

128. Members of the National Assembly have a right to information from members of the Ministerial Council, by tabling a legislative question on issues or request a report, as further laid down by law.

129. Information provided by the Ministerial Council to the National Assembly, its committees and members shall be correct, relevant and adequate.

130. Members can report on issues under their authority to the National Assembly.

5. Public service

131. Members of the Ministerial Council shall appoint persons to such posts as provided by law.

132. Qualifications and issues of substance shall govern the appointment to office.

6. Responsibility

133. Members of the Ministerial Council bear legal responsibility for all administrative activity. Should a member note in minutes their opposition to a Ministerial Council decision they are not responsible therefor. The responsibility for their infractions in office shall be laid down by law.

134. A committee of the National Assembly shall decide, following an inquiry, whether an investigation shall be initiated into the alleged infractions of a member of the Ministerial Council. The committee appoints a prosecutor who conducts the investigation. They shall assess whether the conclusion of the investigation is adequate or likely to lead to a conviction upon which they issue an indictment and prosecute the case before the Supreme Court. The investigation and handling of such cases shall be further laid down by law.

5. Judiciary

1. Role

135. The Supreme Court and lower courts are vested with the judicial power. They shall adjudicate all legal disputes presented to them.

2. Organisation

136. The organisation of the judiciary, the levels of courts and the number of judges, shall be laid down by law.

3. Courts

137. Courts shall render final verdicts on the rights and obligations under civil law as well as on guilt for a punishable act and decide penalties therefor.

138. Courts shall decide whether laws are in conformity with the constitution.

139. Courts shall decide whether the public authorities have complied with the law. An administrative decision cannot be evaded in the short term by referring it to the courts.

140. Courts shall have their independence ensured by law.

4. Supreme Court

141. The Supreme Court is the highest court of the state and has the final power to resolve all legal disputes presented to the courts.

5. Judges

142. Judges are either appointed permanently or for a certain term. Courts can hire or convene others as stipulated by law.

143. The minister responsible for judicial affairs appoints judges and releases them from their duties.

144. Judges will not be finally removed from office except by a court verdict and only then if they no longer fulfil the conditions for performing the duties of their office or no longer perform the duties related to their work.

145. Judges shall only be guided by the law in performing their duties.

6. Subdivisions

1. Organisation

146. The country shall be subdivided into entities for the purpose of administration and local governance. The levels of subdivision shall be laid down by law.

147. Entities at a lower level of subdivision shall be wholly contained within a single entity at a higher level of subdivision.

2. Local governments

148. Local governments of subdivisions shall be elected by their inhabitants.

149. The procedures of local governments and their elections shall follow the same rules as those of the National Assembly unless otherwise specified by law.

3. Funding

150. The state shall fund the activities of its subdivisions.

7. Domestic affairs

1. Budget proposal

151. A budget proposal for the coming financial year, containing a report on the revenue and expenditure of the state as further stipulated by law, shall be submitted to each session of the National Assembly upon it being convened.

2. Payment authority

152. No payment shall be rendered unless authorised in the state budget.

153. After having received the consent of the committee of the National Assembly responsible for the state budget, the minister responsible for financial affairs may render payment without such an authorisation in order to meet the payment obligations of the state due to unforeseen circumstances or if the public interest so dictates. Authorisation for such payments must be sought in a supplementary state budget.

3. Assets and commitments

154. No loans may be taken nor guarantees issued that commit the state except by law.

155. The real property of the state or the use thereof may not be sold or otherwise disposed of except by the authority of the law. The disposal of other assets of the state shall be governed by law.

4. Taxation

156. Taxes shall be set by law. No tax may be levied, amended or abolished except by law. Administrative authorities shall not be entrusted with the decision to levy a tax, amend or abolish it. No tax shall be levied unless so authorised by law at the time when circumstances arose that determined tax liability.

5. Constitution

157. When the National Assembly has passed a bill amending the constitution it shall be referred to the vote of all eligible voters in the country for approval or rejection. The vote shall take place no earlier than one month and no later than three months following the passage by the National Assembly.

8. Foreign affairs

1. International agreements

158. The minister responsible for foreign affairs signs international agreements on behalf of Iceland. International agreements must be incorporated into Icelandic law and ratified by the National Assembly to take effect.

2. Devolution of state power

159. The entry into international agreements that include the devolution of state power to international institutions, of which Iceland is a member for the purpose of peace and economic cooperation, shall be allowed. The devolution of state power shall always be withdrawable.

160. The devolution of state power by entry into international agreements shall be further defined by law. Should the National Assembly ratify an agreement that contains the devolution of state power the decision shall be referred to a referendum for approval or rejection. The result of such a referendum is binding.