Judicial Control over Althingi: Altered Balance of Powers in the Constitutional System


  • Björg Thorarensen




Separation of powers, constitutional democracy, judicial review, human rights, control over the legislature, rule of law.


The article focuses on how the control of the judiciary over the legislature has increased in the last decades and the reasons for altered balance of powers in the Icelandic constitutional system are explored. Earlier theories of parliamentary precedence over other branches of state power are in transition. There is a growing trend towards the balancing of powers, in which the courts monitor that legislation complies with the constitution. A comparison is made with the developments in the constitutional systems of Denmark and Norway which points at the same direction. The European Convention on Human Rights and constitutional amendments in 1995 have affected the interpretation methods of the Icelandic courts and strengthened their supervisory role. Ideas underlying constitutional democracy, rule of law and effective remedies for individuals are prevailing over the idea of preferred position of the legislative power vis-à-vis the judiciary. The courts see it as a constitutional duty to adjudicate whether a legislative act conforms with constitutional human rights. The Supreme Court of Iceland has referred to the wide discretion of the legislature in the field of fiscal powers, such as regarding taxation and the social security system. However, even where legislation aims at the implementation of important political policies, the discretion of Althingi is subject to certain limits. The effective judicial control requires that Althingi must assess carefully whether legislation which limits constitutionally protected human rights conforms with the principles of equality and proportionality.

Author Biography

Björg Thorarensen

Professor, University of Iceland.



How to Cite

Thorarensen, B. (2016). Judicial Control over Althingi: Altered Balance of Powers in the Constitutional System. Icelandic Review of Politics & Administration, 12(1), 23–46. https://doi.org/10.13177/irpa.a.2016.12.1.2



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