REYKJAVIK – In Iceland, an unusual law dating back to 1940 allows a murderer or a paedophile to become a lawyer or a judge.
Known as “restored honour”, the legal procedure does not erase a convict’s criminal record, nor is it a pardon.
It is intended to restore a convict’s civil rights and help them reintegrate into the community.
But for most Icelanders, the law is obsolete, unjust, and an example of the cronyism that has for too long poisoned politics on the small North Atlantic island of 335,000 people.
Opposition to the law began to emerge after Robert Arni Hreidarsson, a former lawyer who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 for having sexually assaulted at least four teenage girls, had his “honour restored” in September 2016.
One of his victims was the daughter of Bergur Thor Ingolfsson, a 48-year-old actor-director who has become a spokesman for the law’s opponents.
Over the past two decades, 86 convicts have applied to have their “honour restored”, according to the justice ministry. Thirty-two of them were approved.
Icelandic prison sentences longer than four months bar convicts from standing for election, taking a seat on the board of a state-owned company, and practising law, among other things.
A request for “restored honour”, which is granted by the president, must be accompanied by two letters of recommendation signed by upstanding members of the community.
The father of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Benedikt Sveinsson, one of Iceland’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen, signed such a letter for another paedophile convicted in 2004 of having raped his stepdaughter almost daily for 12 years.
The name of the signatory had been kept from the media and the public (only his son and the justice minister were informed), until a parliamentary commission ordered it be revealed.
Icelanders’ opposition to the law has focused primarily on child molesters being granted “restored honour”, and less so on other types of criminals.
In a bid to address the concerns, parliament voted on September 27 to temporarily repeal a section of the law dealing with those sentenced to more than one year in prison, pending a full review by the future government.