Ask A Lawyer: Was There Ever The Death Penalty In Iceland? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ask A Lawyer: Was There Ever The Death Penalty In Iceland?

Ask A Lawyer: Was There Ever The Death Penalty In Iceland?

Published July 22, 2019

Was there ever the death penalty in Iceland? We asked lawyer and Grapevine founding member Jón Trausti Sigurðarson for the scoop.

Well, of course. Until it was abolished in 1928, capital punishment was indeed a feature of the Icelandic justice system. By that time our Scandinavian neighbours, Norway and Sweden, had already abolished the death penalty, in 1905 and 1910 respectively. The Danes lingered, only abolishing it in 1933. The Danes and Norwegians then reinstated the death penalty briefly to execute Nazis after 1945, as is proper.

The last time someone was sentenced to death was in 1914. The sentenced was Júlíana Silfá, a woman in her mid-forties who had poisoned her brother by adding phosphorus to his skyr, of course. The sentence was never carried out and it was later commuted to a prison sentence. The last death sentence to actually be carried out in Iceland was way back in 1830 when Agnes and Friðrik were executed for murder, later to be immortalized in a 1995 movie called Agnes.

The strangest part of the history of capital punishment in Iceland is probably the so-called “Stóridómur,” a law that made incest a capital crime, for which around 50 people were executed in a period of about 200 years. Obviously, that meant no sexual relations with your immediate family, however it also banned sex with your wife’s sister, son’s wife or wife’s mother, none of whom should have been related to you by blood… or were they?

Before Iceland had kings, that is prior to the 13th century, there was no death penalty because, well, there was no executive branch to carry it out. But you could be sentenced to “skóggangur,” whereby anyone who could was allowed to kill you on sight. So I guess that kind of worked like justice on the internet does now, in a way.

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