A former Icelandic Supreme Court Judge believes the court’s president should resign, Fréttablaðið reports. There were revelations this week that the president of the Supreme Court had been in possession of shares, worth tens of millions of ISK, in Glitnir bank during the years leading up to the banking collapse. Both before and after the banking collapse, he ruled in cases related to Glitnir.
Former Supreme Court Judge Jón Steinar Gunnlaugsson is of the opinion that the president of the Supreme Court was disqualified to judge in cases that involved Glitnir bank or its representatives. The president of the court both profited from and lost on his investment in the bank.
The salary of Supreme Court judges, who are hired for life, is among the highest in the public sector in order to ensure their independence. If a judge becomes the owner of stock, that ownership should be reported to the Committee on Judicial Work, and if those shares are worth more than ISK 3 million (USD 27,000, EUR 25,000), the judge needs the committee’s approval for owning the stock.
It has been confirmed by the Committee on Judicial Work that the court’s president did write to the committee to ask for permission to hold the stock. No formal approval was sent to him, but Gunnlaugur Claessen, who chaired the committee at the time, has stated that no response from the committee was rightly interpreted as approval.
In an interview on RÚV’s news analysis program Kastljós last night, Jón Steinar stated that not only is it important to consider whether a judge is disqualified, but also whether the judicial system itself appears trustworthy. He posed the question to the audience whether it seems trustworthy for a judge to be a shareholder in one of the parties, whose case he is judging.
A 2006 case was discussed on the program in which two out of three Supreme Court judges were shareholders in Glitnir bank. Skúli Magnússon, head of the Icelandic Judges’ Association, admitted that “The main rule is certainly such that a judge should not rule in the case of a company in which he holds shares.” Skúli added, though, that one of the questions needed to be asked was how large an interest a judge has in each case. He asked if he himself should have been disqualified from judging in a case involving oil companies for the simple reason that he had purchased gas at their gas stations.