Legal aid in Iceland - basic information
Legal aid is provided for all individuals involved in judicial proceedings in Iceland. Foreign nationals who are involved in judicial proceedings in Iceland may therefore be eligible for legal aid, as legal aid is granted regardless of nationality. Article 126 of the Act on Civil Procedure nr. 91/1991 states that any person involved in judicial proceedings in Iceland may be entitled to legal aid.
Legal aid is granted by the Ministry of the Justice. However, the Minister is bound by the opinion of an independent committee, the Legal Aid Committee, that recommends legal aid or denies legal aid depending on the circumstances in each case. The committee is composed of 3 lawyers. The chairman is appointed by the Minister, one member is nominated by the Icelandic Bar Association and one member by the Judge's Association.
An individual sends a detailed application for legal aid, with information about the case, the individual's finances and other relevant information, to the Ministry before the case goes to court. The Legal Aid Committee assesses applications for legal aid on the merits of the case and the income of the applicant. The income criteria for eligibility to legal aid are ISK 2 million per individual a year before taxes. For a married couple or a couple who lives together it is ISK 3 million. Additional ISK 250 thousand are allowed for each child supported by the applicant. This criteria is not definite. The committee may look to other factors than pure income when deciding on the eligibility of the applicant. These factors are outlined in the Regulation on Legal Aid nr. 45/2008. Legal aid may be granted to an individual who has income above the criteria under particular circumstances, such as when the cost of living is especially high for some reason. The committee may deny legal aid to persons who fulfill the criteria in particular circumstances, for example due to the value of the property owned by the individual.
If an individual has been granted legal aid he/she is exempt from all legal fees payable to the state treasury. Other legal costs, including the lawyer's remuneration according to the judge's decision, is paid by the Ministry. Legal aid can be restricted to a certain amount of money in cases that should be settled out of court and it is sometimes restricted to legal fees and the evaluation of one court appointed specialist. The restriction is decided by the Legal Aid Committee on the basis of the application of the individual.