The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled today in the case of Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson v. Iceland, unanimously upholding the verdict handed down by the lower court in March 2019, finding that here had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a tribunal established by law) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As reported, Iceland’s Court of Appeals was established in January 2018. According to the Judiciary Act, a special Evaluation Committee was supposed to assess the candidates for the posts of the initial 15 judges to this court. When this Committee submitted its 15 most qualified candidates for the job, then Minister of Justice Sigríður Á Andersen compiled her own list, including just 11 of the candidates the Committee had approved. An additional four were ranked too low by the Committee to qualify, but the Minister appointed them anyway.
What would eventually send this case to the ECHR was one Guðmundur Ástráðsson, who was convicted in March 2017 of driving without a valid licence and being under the influence of narcotics. He appealed to the Supreme Court, but as his case was not heard before the end of the year, it went instead to the Court of Appeals. In January 2018, Guðmundur was notified by the prosecution who the three judges on his case would be. These included one of the less-qualified judges who had been bumped up the list by the Minister.
As such, Guðmundur requested that this judge recuse themselves due to irregularities in their appointment, but this motion was rejected the District Court, Court of Appeals, and finally by the Supreme Court in May 2018. The case was then taken to the ECHR.
The ECHR found that the Court of Appeals appointments had violated Article 6 § 1 (right to a tribunal established by law) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered the Icelandic government to pay Guðmundur €15,000 in respect of costs and expenses. The Icelandic government then appealed the matter to the Grand Chamber.
In the judgement issued just minutes ago, the Grand Chamber confirmed unanimously that “the applicant [Guðmundur] had been denied his right to a “tribunal established by law” on account of the participation in his trial of a judge whose appointment had been undermined by grave irregularities which had impaired the very essence of the right at issue. There had thus been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.”
Sigríður was found to have committed “grave irregularities which went to the essence of the right to a tribunal established by law”. Furthermore, “Parliament had not fulfilled its duty as guarantor of the lawfulness of the appointment procedure as regards the four candidates in question. Consequently, there had been a grave breach of a fundamental rule of the procedure for appointing judges to the Court of Appeal in the present case.” As such, the Grand Chamber concluded:
“The Court held that the applicant [Guðmundur] had been denied his right to a “tribunal established by law” on account of the participation in his trial of a judge whose appointment had been undermined by grave irregularities which had impaired the very essence of the right at issue. There had thus been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.”
While the Grand Chamber has left it to Icelandic authorities to decide if Guðmundur’s case needed to be re-examined and to “prevent similar violations from taking place in the future”, it ordered the Icelandic state to pay him €20,000 in costs and expenses.
The full judgement can be read here.
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