Jump to main content
Governance

Institutions

Alþingi, the national parliament of Iceland, is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, founded in the year 930. 63 representatives sit in parliament.

Ministries are responsible for the implementation of the legislative power. Under each ministry are various government agencies which may be independent or semi-independent.

The judiciary is one of the three branches of government. The constitution states that judges exercise judicial power and that they are independent in their dutie.

Parliament (Alþingi)

Alþingi is the national parliament of Iceland. It is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, founded in the year 930 at Þingvellir. It was moved to Reykjavík in 1844 and has been there since.

The Icelandic constitution defines Iceland as a parliamentary representative democratic republic. Alþingi is the cornerstone of democracy. Every fourth year, the electors choose, by secret ballot, 63 representatives to sit in parliament. However, elections may also take place if a dissolution of parliament occurs, calling for a general election.

The 63 members of parliament jointly hold legislative and fiscal powers, which allows them to make decisions on public spending and taxation.

It is considered important for the public to have access to information on decisions made in parliament, as the electorate and their representatives are responsible for the maintenance of rights and democracy in action.

Find out more about Alþingi.

Ministries

Ministries, headed by ruling coalition government ministers, are responsible for the implementation of the legislative power. Ministries are the highest level of administration. The scope of work, names and even the existence of ministries may change according to the government’s policy at each time.

Under each ministry are various government agencies which may be independent or semi-independent. These agencies are responsible for implementing policy, carrying out oversight, protecting and preserving citizens’ rights, and providing services in accordance with legislation.

List of ministries in Iceland can be found here.

List of government agencies can be found here.

The court system

The judiciary is one of the three branches of government. The constitution states that judges exercise judicial power and that they are independent in their duties. Iceland has a three-tier court system.

District Courts

All court actions in Iceland begin in the District Courts (Héraðsdómstólar). They are eight and located around the country.  The conclusion of a District Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal, provided specific conditions for appeal are satisfied. 42 of whom preside over the eight District Courts.

Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) is a court of second instance, situated between the District Court and the Supreme Court. Court of Appeal was introduced in 2018 and is part of a major restructuring of the Icelandic justice system. The Court of Appeal has fifteen judges.

Supreme Court

It is possible to refer the conclusion of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, in special cases, after receiving the permission of the Supreme Court, which is the country’s court of highest instance. In most instances, the judgement of the Court of Appeal will be the final resolution in the case.

The Supreme Court of Iceland has the role of setting precedents in jurisprudence. It has seven judges.

Police

Policing affairs are carried out by the Police, the Coast Guard, and Customs.

Iceland has never had military forces – neither an army, navy or air force.

The role of the police in Iceland is to protect and serve the public. They work to prevent violence and crime in addition to investigating and solving cases of criminal offences. The public is obliged to obey instructions issued by the police. Failure to do so may result in a fine or imprisonment.

Police affairs in Iceland are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and are administered by the Office of the National Commissioner of the Police (Embætti ríkislögreglustjóra) on behalf of the ministry. The organisation is divided into nine districts, the largest being the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police (Lögreglan á höfuðborgarsvæðinu) which is responsible for the Capital Region. Find the nearest district to you here.

Policemen in Iceland are not armed except with a small baton or nightstick. However, the Reykjavik police force do have a special squadron trained in the use of firearms and in operations against armed individuals or extreme situations where public safety could be in jeopardy.

In Iceland, the police enjoy a high level of trust from residents, and people may safely approach the police if they believe that they have been the victim of an offence or violence.

If you need assistance from the police, call 112 or contact the online chat on their website.

You can also report offences or contact the police in a non-emergency through this website.

Directorate of Immigration

The Icelandic Directorate of Immigration is a government agency that operates under the Ministry of Justice. The primary tasks of the Directorate are issuing residence permits, processing applications for international  protection, processing visa applications, processing applications for citizenship, issuing travel documents for refugees and passport for foreigners.. The Directorate is also involved in projects on matters concerning foreigners and cooperation with other organizations.

Website of Directorate of Immigration.

Directorate of Labour

The Directorate of Labour bears overall responsibility for public labour exchanges and handles day-to-day operations of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Maternity and Paternity Leave Fund, the Wage Guarantee Fund and other projects connected with the labour market.

The Directorate has a range of responsibilities, including the registration of jobseekers and paying out unemployment benefits.

In addition to its headquarters in Reykjavík, the Directorate has eight regional offices around the country which provide jobseekers and employers with support in their search of employment and staff engagement. To contact the Directorate of Labour click here.

Ministries, are responsible for the implementation of the legislative power.