Libel Case Verdict: Confusing Past Sponsor And Current Employer Cost A Million
Former fishing operator Jón Guðbjartsson was found guilty of libel on Tuesday. The Westfjords District court declared several of his remarks null and void, all concerning relations between Helgi Áss Grétarsson, Ph.D. student and associate professor at the University of Iceland’s Law faculty and LÍÚ, the Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners. The nullified remarks included: “Helgi Áss receives wages from LÍÚ, which pays his chair at the university”, published by BB.is mid-February, and other statements in the same vein.
Jón’s defence stated that the phrase “to receive wages” was not meant literally, but referred to the fact that during six years, 2006–2012, Helgi Áss was employed as a specialist by the Law faculty, in a position fully sponsored by LÍÚ. The defence further claimed that the defendant was not aware that this situation had changed when the remarks were made. When Jón was made aware that his remarks were obsolete, he, according to the court documents, apologized in writing and requested that corrections would be published in all media involved.
The defence also noted that the remarks were uttered to express doubts about Helgi’s qualifications to write an independent report on a law proposed by the Minister of Fisheries, and not as an expression of personal contempt.
The court’s verdict reasoned that the remarks were apparently made to “depreciate the report” that Helgi Áss conducted about said proposal, and “thereby discredit the accuser as a scholar”. As the statements were factually untrue, the court ruled against the defendant and declared the remarks null and void. The defendant was ordained to compensate legal fees, the cost of publishing the verdict in one newspaper, and pay damages, totaling just under 1 million ISK.