This web page is part of the Guide to the Icelandic justice system for victims of sexual offences. It aims to clarify the process regarding offences against individuals 18 years and older.
- Abuse in close relationships
- A guide to the Icelandic justice system
- Before the district court
The case is brought before the district court
When the District Prosecutor has issued an indictment against the perpetrator the case is pleaded before the district court. Then you go to the courtroom and recount your experience.
Where is the case pleaded?
The case is usually pleaded in the district court where the perpetrator’s legal residence is. You might therefore be required to travel there to give testimony. The cost of travel, for example airfare, is usually included in the litigation costs that the judge will rule on.
Registration of a court case
The registration of a court case (ice. þingfesting) means the beginning of the conduct of a case before the court. The judge decides on the time and place where the case will be registered. The defendant (the perpetrator) must attend the registration and plead guilty or innocent.
Defendant is required to attend but you are not
You are not required to attend the registration of the court case. Your legal rights protector attends the court session on your behalf. They let you know whether the defendant has pleaded guilty or innocent and when the hearing will take place
Case receives a number
When the case is registered it is given a unique number. You can use that number to monitor the case on the district court website.
Perpetrator pleads guilty
If the perpetrator pleads guilty, the judge decides on the punishment, usually within four weeks from the registration of the case. If the perpetrator pleads guilty, you don’t have to testify in court.
Perpetrator pleads innocent
If the perpetrator pleads innocent then the hearing of the case goes ahead, what is usually called a trial. In the lead-up to the hearing, the defence of the defendant may submit a written statement describing the basis of their defence in the case.
The case is pleaded by the District Prosecutor on the one hand and the perpetrator’s defence on the other. Witnesses connected to the case are called up, among others. Everybody 15 years of age or older is required to appear in court as a witness to answer questions if they are summoned. One of the most important witnesses is you, the victim in the case.
Your legal rights protector attends the entire hearing on your behalf and if they have submitted a compensation claim in the case, they explain that claim before the judge.
Preparing to testify
Victims, like other witnesses, are summoned at a specific time. Your legal rights protector lets you know when you are required to be there and is there to support you during the process.
Going to the district court
Those who give testimony before the court are not permitted to listen to the testimony of those who are called up before them. That is why you wait outside the courtroom until you are shown in. You will most likely give testimony right after the perpetrator. Sometimes testimony can take longer than accounted for and you may have to wait longer than you thought at first. After you have given testimony, you can stay to watch the trial if you want to.
Most sexual offence cases are pleaded behind closed doors and are not open to the public.
In the courtroom
When it is your turn to testify, you walk into the courtroom and sit down on the witness stand. Those present in the courtroom are the judge, the prosecutor, the perpetrator’s defence, and your legal rights protector. The perpetrator may be present as well. The perpetrator has the right to be in the courtroom, but they often excuse themselves or choose to not be present.
Usually the courtrooms are small rooms, so people are sometimes in closer proximity than you might have expected beforehand. The perpetrator might therefore be sitting a few metres away from you as they have the right to be in the courtroom the whole time.
Who sits where?
The prosecutor and your legal rights protector sit on the left side of the courtroom. The perpetrator and their defence sit on the right side. The judge is in the middle. A good piece of advice is to just look at the judge and speak to them, or in the direction that the District Prosecutor and your legal rights protector are sitting in order to draw strength from them.
Practice in a virtual courtroom
Witnesses in court cases can visit the courtroom using virtual reality to prepare themselves. The facilities for the virtual courtroom are located at the National Police Commissioner’s Officer in Reykjavík, at Skúlagata 21, near Hlemmur.
Request for the defendant to leave the courtroom
It is possible to request that the defendant not be present in the courtroom while you give testimony. Your legal rights protector is the one who submits that request. Sometimes the perpetrator agrees to leave, but if not, the judge rules on whether they must leave or not.
Questions and instructions from the judge
First, the judge will ask you what your name is and briefly explain how the proceedings will go. The judge tells you that you are required to speak truthfully and correctly, and that not doing so before the court is a punishable offence. That doesn’t mean that the judge expects you to lie, rather it is the judge’s obligation to instruct victims on this. The judge says the same thing to all witnesses.
If the perpetrator is a close family member of yours, the judge will inform you that you are not required to give testimony..
What should I say?
Usually, the victim is first asked to recount the incident in question and then the prosecutor will ask about specific details. After the prosecutor has asked questions, the defence is offered the chance to ask questions and sometimes the legal rights protector and judge ask questions as well.
It’s OK to be unsure
The goal of listening to your account is to shed light on the incidents of the case.
You are recalling difficult details in difficult circumstances. It is therefore OK, and in fact important, to say if you don’t remember some facts of the case or if you are unsure about them. Sometimes the judge, prosecutor, or defence review what you said in your police statement and ask whether that description was correct
After giving testimony
After you have given testimony, you may leave the courtroom or stay and follow along with the case proceedings.
A good piece of advice is to just look at the judge and speak to them, or in the direction that the District Prosecutor and your legal rights protector are sitting.
The District Prosecutor’s review of the case takes around six months before a decision is made to issue an indictment or dismiss the case.
If an indictment is issued, the next step is the trial: that is, registering the court case, the hearing, and delivery of judgement. There can be one to six months between the registration of the case and the hearing. It depends on the submission of the written observations, the case load of the judge who is assigned your case, and other factors.
The judgement should then be delivered within four weeks of the hearing.
District court schedule online
On the district court website (under Dagskrá - in ice.), you can see cases that are waiting to be taken up and whether that means registration, hearing or delivery of judgement. You can also see judgements that have been delivered in each region.