The Constitutional Council (2011)

Ásta Ragnheiður Jóhannesdóttir, Speaker of Althingi receives the Council’s draft constitution.

Althingi (The Parliament) appointed the Constitutional Council in March 2011 after the Supreme court had invalidated the Constitutional Assembly elections due to procedural flaws, that did not influence the outcome of the election (for more on the elections). 25 members had been elected to the Assembly and they were all offered to be appointed. One declined and subsequently the person who had come in number 26 was appointed. The Constitutional Council drafted a bill for a new constitution with considerable public participation (individual citizens sent in proposals which were considered by the council and engaged in a discussion on the progress of its work. The bill was submitted to Parliament in early August 2011. The Constitutional Council drafted a bill for a new constitution, which was submitted to Parliament in early August 2011. Parliament never voted on the bill.

The Constitutional Council placed strong emphasis on public engagement and transparency throughout the process. The public was encouraged to send formal suggestions, participate in public forums, and offer feedback to the Council.

In this way the Constitutional Council emphasised open communication with the Icelandic public. This offered the public the opportunity to participate in the nations constitutional reform.

This was achieved in various ways:

1) Publishing all meetings, all minutes from meetings of groups, the Board and the Council as well as the Council’s work procedures.

2) Keeping an active webpage with news from the Council’s work as well as a weekly newsletter.

3) Advertisements were published in the media encouraging the public to keep track of what is going on and to make comments.

4) Using social media as a unique method of fostering public discourse. As well as a platform for updates on the process.

5) Broadcasting interviews and weekly sessions.

6) Building on the recommendations of the 2010 National Assembly.

The Council unanimously supported the constitution draft it finished on 29 July 2011 and presented to parliament on the same day.

English translation of Constitutional Council Bill :
http://stjornarskrarfelagid.is/?page_id=2619

Constitutional Council Bill with Explanations:
http://www.stjornlagarad.is/other_files/stjornlagarad/Frumvarp_med_skyringar.pdf

The draft included articles such as:

  • ‘one person, one vote’ (in the existing system, a candidate ‘requires much more votes to be elected as an MP in Reykjavik than in one of the more rural areas’).
  • a number of changes to government, including not automatically making the biggest party’s leader PM, introducing a ten-year limit for PM terms, and that a vote of no confidence should have to include a proposed replacement PM.
  • obliging the state to provide internet access to all citizens;
  • introducing a three-term limit for the President (12 years);
  • Signatures of 15% of voters put’s bills to parliament or to call for a referendum on proposed laws;
  • restricting government size to ten ministers, and barring ministers from being MPs at the same time; and
  • declaring Iceland’s natural resources public property.

Constitutional Council Website:
http://www.stjornlagarad.is/english/

English translation of Constitutional Council Bill :
http://stjornarskrarfelagid.is/?page_id=2619

Constitutional Council Bill with Explanations:
http://www.stjornlagarad.is/other_files/stjornlagarad/Frumvarp_med_skyringar.pdf

After delivering the bill to parliament, the Constitutional Council disbanded. The parliament took over, seeking further comments from local lawyers as well as, ultimately, from the Venice Commission. A translation was arranged and paid for by the Constitutional Society, a private nonprofit organization to solicit foreign expertise on the draft. This made it possible for world-renowned constitutional experts such as Prof. Jon Elster from Columbia University and Prof. Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago to express their helpful views of the bill.

More information..